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June Brides - Interview with Phil Wilson

  by Gary Wollen

published: 18 / 10 / 2002

June Brides - Interview with Phil Wilson


The June Brides combination of punk attitude and spiky pop made them one of the most endearing and copied independent groups in the UK in the 80's. Gary Wollen talks to vocalist Phil Wilson about the group's short, but influential three year history

For those of you who don’t know, or are too young to have heard of the June Brides, let me give you a brief run through of their short but none the less significant and influential career. They were formed in 1983 in South London and played consistently around the country for three years becoming the most endearing and often copied independent group in the UK. Their punk attitude and gloriously spiky pop ensured that they went down as one of the most important bands of their time. They released two singles and one album on the Pink label which were: In The Rain / Sunday to Saturday 7” (pinky 01) Every Conversation / Disneyland 7” (pinky o2) There Are Eight Million Stories LP (pinky 05) Aftewards they moved on to In Tape records to release: No Place Called Home / We Belong 7” (IT24) No Place Called Home / We Belong / On The Rocks / Josef’s Gone 12” This Town / Cold / Just The Same 12” (IT30) All these releases were collected on a compilation CD called 'For Better For Worse on Overground Records' (Over40CD) in the mid-90s, and an all-inclusive CD is due for release in the New Year. As well as the songs listed above, it will include some notable additions, but more of that from the horses mouth later. Although they shed drummers with the frequency of Spinal Tap, the line-up that recorded 'There Are Eight Million Stories' was: Phil Wilson, Vocals, Guitar Simon “Bees” Beesley, Guitar, Vocals Adrian “Ace” Carter, Bass Guitar Jon Hunter, Trumpet Frank Sweeney, Viola, Organ Brian Alexis, Drums The June Brides were, for me at least, a seminal band. I know exactly what he means when Phil Wilson talks about “small joys”. I can remember vividly ordering their album 'There Are Eight Million Stories', purchasing it and playing it for the first time. I still get shivers when I think back to the way it made me feel. You all know that feeling, the dizziness, the dryness in the mouth, the racing heart and the desire to share your discovery with the whole world…but hang on a minute. If the whole world knew about this band then they would no longer be your “small joy”. They would belong to everyone else. Yes EVERYONE. Even the knob head down the road that wants to share with you the “pleasure” of the mighty Simple Minds. Even the moron that went off with your girlfriend at the college Disco and who likes U2 etc etc…. You wonder why other bands don’t sound like this. Well, a year or so after this album’s release, they did! The group reformed in May to play a 20th anniversary reunion show at the Spitz in London. I caught up with Phil shortly afterwards to speak about the band's impact and history PB : Was the recent gig at The Spitz a one off? PW : It was a one off. There were going to be some more gigs in America. We are currently putting together a full double CD retrospective. There were various licensing problems and it took a bit of time getting it together. It is pretty much sorted now so that should come out in the next couple of months. Then we will try to get a couple of gigs in America and a couple more in England. The point of The Spitz was more to do with it being my birthday. The guys still live nearby. Frank and Bees live within a mile so I often see them up here for a drink. PB : What’s the new CD going to have on it that the last one didn’t? PW : It would have pretty much all The June Brides output on record and three Radio One sessions. Some of the songs we recorded a lot better in the sessions than we did on record. There are blinding versions of ‘I Fall’ and ‘In The Rain’ that sound like The Velvet Underground. Also all the solo stuff that I did will be on there and some unreleased versions and demos. The rights of all the songs have reverted to me anyway but it has taken a year of frantic emailing for them to let me have them for free. PB : Can we go through the history of the June Brides for people unaware of the band's background ? PW : We formed for a joke at the LSE to enter a battle of the bands night. We were called International Rescue. We were punks. so we entered to take the piss out of the whole competition and guess what…we won! Then we won the semi and came second in the final to a dreadful jazz-rock band. It just so happened that someone from ‘The Venue’ saw us and offered us a gig supporting the Higsons. It was a great gig to get considering we formed to take the piss out of serious rock musicians. It happened easily and then we split up soon afterwards, but the germ of the idea was there that you could form a band quite easily on your own. I spent the next six months making weird electronic tape loops. Metal machine music. I thought it was getting all a bit clichéd so I formed a jangly pop band instead. You played live quite regularly. In stark contrast to today when bands seem merely to play when they have a record to promote. It was always playing for pleasure. It was a really friendly atmosphere at the time. You would have Alan McGee running his Living Room club. We had a little club in South London, Big Flame in Manchester, Yeah Yeah No's in Leicester, Age of Chance in Leeds, Close Lobsters in Glasgow. and we would go and play in the Close Lobsters club and then a couple of weeks later they would come and play in London. Mutual support. The atmosphere now is so much different. It seems to happen so much quicker now. You have just heard of a band when suddenly they are on television. They get a lot more exposure; it’s a lot more corporate. I can’t imagine a band as unprofessional and crap as us when we made our first record being allowed anywhere near a studio to record. I think we were the first Indie pop band to get an NME front cover. Even then the music press was loathe to cover Indie Pop. It was quite cliquey. The first time I went to McGee’s club it was a sheer joy to find other people who liked the same music as I did. I was convinced up to that point that I was the only person who liked the Television Personalities. The same people would be there every week. One week the guy would be in the audience, the next week playing on the stage. PB : Pink was your first label. How did you sign to them? PW : Simon Down,who ran Pink, used to help McGee run the Living Room, running the door for him. He decided to do a label and McGee wouldn’t sign the June Brides because he said we were too obvious. PB : …And The Pastels and Primal Scream weren’t? PW : Well…it was a bit pig headed but Alan is the kind of person that if nine people say he should do something then he probably won’t. Anyway, Simon put us in the same studio that Creation used, had the same people press the wrap round sleeves to make it look exactly like a Creation single. At that point, Alan told him to stop and to find his own identity. The first single was ‘In The Rain’, shortly after which McCarthy and Jamie Wednesday joined and the label took off. If they’re reading this, you owe us lots of money! Them and Stereolab. We sold 34,000 copies of ‘There Are Eight Million Stories’ (our first album) and we didn’t get paid for it. Simon said he sunk all the money into Jamie Wednesday, later to become the appalling Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, and McCarthy, because he much preferred them to us. So if you listen to the production of their records, that’s our money! You could pay it back now. PB : Was that the reason for your leaving Pink and signing to In Tape or was that just a natural progression? PW : It was a bit of both really. When we learnt how many records we sold and how much money we’d lost it was long after the event. Simon was quite enthusiastic about Jamie Wednesday and McCarthy and lost interest with us. We wanted more money to spend on recording the songs as we felt the songs were getting better and more complex. PB : The songs are very personal and not anthemic. PW : It was very much what I wanted to do. I did spend a lot of time writing the lyrics. You get the germ of an idea quite quickly but to put the whole lyric together takes time. I always tried to write lyrics that meant something to me - that was coming from somewhere truthful and simple but was relating to other people. I was very much against the anthemic theme of the time. We wanted to speak to people, not shout at them or tell them what to do. Just imagine how fantastic The Jesus and Mary Chain would sound now sitting amongst Coldplay. PB : Have you signed up for the C86 revival tour yet? PW : I’ve got a horrible feeling… Actually we were discussing this. We were talking about expanding the tour and going to Japan as well and thought we could get a C86 tour together. We could get the Close Lobsters and the Wedding Present to reform. If Culture Club and Duran Duran are doing it, then we are the opposition. Where were we…? PB : In Tape… PW : Oh yes ! Jim at In Tape was keen on getting us into the charts. He did really well with the Rockabilly act Terry and Jerry. He got them on kids TV and thought we would be the next thing. He actually stuck his neck out for us and paid for pluggers. We got played by Simon Bates on Radio 1 a couple of times. He was willing to spend money on us and he had faith. It was great going into a decent studio and getting a decent sound at last. It was all moving forward in the way we wanted it to. I had been disappointed in the sound on the earlier songs. There are some great songs on the album but the sound was equivalent to two wasps farting in a tin can. PB : But to me that was part of the charm of them. PW : I know. A lot of people love them for that and some people get angry when I say I don’t like it. I wouldn’t re-record them but it is frustrating. I wanted them to sound big and powerful, not like the Alarm and anthemic. Not epic, just majestic. PB : Do you remember doing Glastonbury? PW : Yeah, we hated it. I think we were in and out of there in an hour or two. At the time we were Punk Rock and Glastonbury to us was a fun day out. It’s got nothing to do with rock and roll. It’s to do with having a party, and people being off their faces for two days and dancing to anything they vaguely know. They’ll applaud Rolf fucking Harris at Glastonbury, as long as they know the tune and now its just part of the treadmill. T in the Park, Glastonbury, V2002... it’s always the same bands. PB : Do you remember the Big Twang in Brighton? PW : Oh God, yeah! It was a nice place. We did one our nicest gigs for the Big Twang. It was a mystery tour gig where we all got on a bus and pretended to be the Beatles with the Shop Assistants and the Chesterfields. I think the Mary Chain were going to do it but didn’t. The attitude was great. We made no money from it, and it was just a joy to do. We’d much rather do that than a boring normal gig. Never mind the money, the enjoyment was really important. PB : Did you split up through disenchantment? PW : Yes, I suppose when we were in the Indie Charts for 34 weeks it was really a peak for us. Then the follow up records (which incidentally I thought were much better) didn’t do nearly so well and it felt as though the interest was dying. I was annoyed and angry. I was slaving really hard to write better songs. I thought the songs were growing. We still had the attitude and fire but the songs were becoming more sophisticated but we couldn’t bring people with us. We were playing gigs but all people wanted were ‘In The Rain’, ‘Enemies’ and ‘Every Conversation’ and to jump around to them which was fair enough, but it just got a bit disillusioning. We all just got fed up. Myself particularly, I didn’t want to plug away at it and it felt like it wasn’t’fun any more. We were just touring doing gigs to get exposure in the hope that the next record would be bigger and suddenly realised that that was not why I got into it. It was supposed to and should be about enjoyment. Sharing that feeling with the audience. Its about inspiring other people to do it. It's not about commerciality and getting a career out of it, so I stopped. Like that. PB : I felt the Brilliant Corners who you roued lattely with were a carbon copy of the June Brides. PW : It was a low point when we had to support the Brilliant Corners and I thought ‘What’s going on here? Here is a band that has completely changed to sound like ‘The Junies'. There are a lot of bands who were at that time coming out sounding like us. I didn’t like that at all. That wasn’t the point of it and it wasn’t our idea to get more bands to go out and form more June Brides. Our attitude was really this is easy and fun to do. Form your own band and do your own story. That is why the album is called there are eight million stories. That was our story and we wanted to hear everyone else’s, not ours again. PB : I hear echoes of C86 bands in a lot of bands today! PW : Yeah, it seems to have thrown back at us. The thing is it is all over the world. There are C86 bands in the Philippines, which is bizarre! PB : Jon’s trumpet sound was quite unique and he played it in a way that stood out PW : Yeah, he played with a muted sound and melodic rather than punching out a stab or highlighting certain parts of the song. PB : And what about the viola? PW : Yeah, that was always a great part of it. We were so pleased when we found Frank. I think it was the second gig we ever played at The George and Dragon in Lewisham. We played on the pool table there. PB : They weren’t still playing? PW : They did interrupt the games for us to play. No, they put some wood on it and made a stage. Frank turned up and said "You’re really good, I want to play in your band" and we said "Oh yeah". He mentioned that he played viola and we immediately thought "Aha, John Cale" and were immediately interested. What was really good about the June Brides was that there were a lot of inventive people in the band. Ace was a really melodic bass player, Frank was superb on viola and John’s trumpet was fantastic. They were really inventive, a great group of individuals which I didn’t really appreciate at the time as much as I should have. When I went on to do solo things, I went on to play with some old friends and really good musicians and generally nice folk, but it just didn’t gel. It wasn’t the same as when it grows organically with a group of friends. There’s a joyful creativity that grows. PB : And don’t forget Bees with his fast and furious speed strumming. PW : Bees does tend to get very excited. He is like a big kid. It was funny at the last gig when he was jumping around and sneaking back and tweaking his amplifier up until finally all you could hear on stage was Bees. PB : Do you still play music? PW : No - hardly ever. I get my guitar out sometimes and strum at home. I used to play Country and Western gigs with my Dad now and then in Norfolk. No rehearsal, you just go up there and sit in with the band and they would just say what key the songs were in and you would just play. You know how simple Country and Western is. I thought that when you play in a band you either do it properly or you don’t, because there is no point in plugging away doing it as you get older and more desperate to get famous. I just stopped and did something else. It was a joy rehearsing for the last gig but I couldn’t do it continuously because coming home from work and playing really takes it out of you. Doing it every now and then would do "keeping your hand in" to prove to yourself that you can still do it. "OK I’ve hit 40 but I can still RAWK!" PB : The last time we reformed and played in 1995 we got ripped to shreds for doing a reunion. The reviews were so abusive and it was as if we were trying to make a comeback and take it seriously. But it’s just a joy to do for us, and also the people who like us and people who have heard the records but never seen us. It’s a good job that we didn’t keep going and lose that mythical status. We thought it was really funny when we split up and we put out a press release that said the June Brides are parting company and becoming a legend. PB : What do you listen to at the moment? PW : Loads of Reggae, Lee Perry, Black Heart stuff like that. I like rhe Handsome Family and old country music. I like Beulah and a bit of Indie Pop, but its not really what floats my boat any more. Comet Gain are good though, but mostly old stuff like Nick Drake, Tim Hardin, Tim Buckley, Rhythm and Blues, Soul and of course the Velvets. PB : I remember the first time I ever listened to both the Velvet Underground and the June Brides Album. Those moments crystallised and stayed with me. Do records do that for you? PW : Yes I remember the first time I heard the Velvet Underground. It was a great moment in my life. I was playing in a Punk Rock band called the Slugs and they loved the Velvets. I grew up thinking they were a dodgy heavy metal band for some reason but they kept insisting that I listened to them and I took it home and listened to it. It blew my head off, fantastic! I absolutely love what I call ‘small joys’. What do I mean by that? I will explain. There is a band I really love called the Lines. They made one album and four or five singles. 'Nerve Pylon' was one of them, 'White Night' was another. They were great singles. They were around in 1981, 1982 and then they split. Hardly anyone has ever heard of them, but they are great pop records and it’s a private joy. I keep trying to tell everyone that it is great. Most people think it is when they hear it. They love it. That’s what I mean by small joys, when something is so yours that hardly anyone knows about it. I love this record, it’s special and I know about it. We also talk about the June Brides meeting with Morrissey and a packet of peanuts. Of how they turned down point blank major record deals and perhaps more importantly their utter refusal to do the expected if they didn’t want to. And when it stopped being fun, quite simply they stopped. How many bands do you know that are that cool. I can think of thousands that I wish were that cool! After meeting Phil what struck me most was how the personality of this caring, genuine songwriter comes through in his lyrics. The June Brides had soul. Buckets of it! Their songs were not anthemic but intimate and at the same time certainly spoke to me of a life that I knew. Here was a band that walked it like they talked it. Not with gauche bravado or premeditated provocative soundbites that they knew would get lines in the music press to shift a few thousand more copies of their latest reworking of ‘That’s What I Call Corporate Rock #47’. The June Brides’ attitude, sound and honest amateur approach belie songs that weave their spell so completely that the superficial simplicity of them conspires with soulful intimate lyrics to embed themselves deep under your skin

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June Brides - Interview with Phil Wilson

June Brides - Interview with Phil Wilson

June Brides - Interview with Phil Wilson

June Brides - Interview with Phil Wilson

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