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Razorcuts - Interview with Gregory Webster Part 1

  by Anthony Strutt

published: 13 / 5 / 2003

Razorcuts - Interview with Gregory Webster Part 1


One of the biggest bands of the C86 era, the Razorcuts were inspired by both the Byrds and the Buzzcocks, and were one of the early signings to Creation Records. In the first part of a two part interview, frontman Gregory Webster chats to Anthony Strutt

I only ever saw the Razorcuts once back on the 9th of July 1987 at a 2 day Creation Records night special upstairs at the Clarendon (above Hammersmith Broadway) where the bill also included the Jasmine Minks and ex-Strawberry Switchblade girl, Jill Bryson (who was signed to Creation at the time, but produced no fruits for the label). The Razorcuts, who have been described as "combining a sublasted 60's beat jangle with the DIY ethics of punks", were one of the genre-defining acts of the C86 movement, and were formed by long-term friends, vocalist/guitarist Gregory Webster and bassist Tim Vass, in 1984. Before they finally split up in 1991, they released various singles, and also two albums, 'The Storyteller' (1988) and 'The World Keeps Turning' (1989) on Creation Records. While the Razorcuts have never reformed, they have recently been through something of a renaissance. 'R is for Razorcuts', a retrospective compilation album, and 'A is for Alphabet', a four track EP, have both been released on the American label, Matinee, to great acclaim in the last few months. Both have been bestsellers at Pennyblackmusic, which is the reason for this in-depth two part interview with Gregory Webster. Greg played in Carousel for several years after the Razorcuts split, and is now the frontman in Sportique. All those guides to indie, and everything printed about the Razorcuts has been pretty inaccurate up until now. I caught up with Gregory to find out the truth about their seven year history. PB: Here is your chance to put the record straight. It says in various guides that that you and Tim were originally from Luton. GW: Yes. PB: But I believe you both have Oxford connections. Do you live in Oxford now? GW : I live in Oxford now. Yeah. My girlfriend at the time the Razorcuts began was Liz (Elizabeth Price), who went on to be in Talulah Gosh. She was studying in Oxford, and so I started to spend a lot of time down there and eventually moved there because it was a cool place to live. That's how the Oxford thing came about. About the same time that I started spending a lot of time there, Liz met up with Amelia Fletcher and they decided to form a band together, so that's how Talulah Gosh happened. It became the centre of that little scene at that time in Oxford. Tim and I, therefore, started to rehearse together in Oxford, but both me and him are originally from Luton. PB: How did you both meet ? Was it at school or university? GW : We met down the local pub. We were both sort of punks back then. We are both so old that we were around when punk happened and there was this local pub that was the punk pub. PB: Was there a big punk community in Luton then ? Even in London at the time it was still very small apart from the punk live venues, such as the Marquee in Wardour Street.. GW: It wasn't a big scene, but everyone knew one another. It was a very sociable scene and very withdrawn also because of that. It wasn't big. PB: How did the band get together ? Originally it was you, Tim and your first drummer, David Swift , wasn’t it ? GW : Yeah. PB: So that bit’s right? GW : Yeah, that absolutely right. Tim and I had been playing together since the early 80's. PB: Were there any bands prior to the Razorcuts? GW We had a few bands before then, all of which were Luton based. It was a like a local bands sort of thing. They were absolutely terrible in retrospect. PB: Did you release anything? GW : We released one record before the Razorcuts with a band called the Cinemamatics. It came out on our own label Pulse Beat Records and it was absolutely terrible as well. Having said that though, it had one good song on it and it is quite nice to have it now in some ways because it came out pre the whole C-86 scene/indie thing. The rest of it was pretty bad. It was our first experience in the recording studio. As you can imagine, we had the greatest time ever. Quality control went out of the window because of that. Neither of us were real singers. We were just seeing how things went and we both had a go. Both of us couldn't sing to save our lives. It has taken me about twenty years to learn (Laughs) PB: It says on the “R is for Razorcuts’ sleeve notes that you were into Young Scotland and things like Postcard Records? GW : Postcard, yeah. PB: Tim, however, was into Joy Division, and the Buzzcocks. GW : We were both into those things really. Tim was very into the Buzzcocks. He used to go off on tour with them and he saw them something like 27 times and that was before they split up rather that later when they got back together. They got used to seeing him in the crowd and used to wave at him and he would pull silly faces at Pete Shelley. When I found that whole Postcard thing, it was a radical experience for me. The first time that I heard Orange Juice’s 'Poor Old Soul' my musical direction suddenly went off into a different tangent. It was absolutely mind blowing. Up until then I was into the Clash and Generation X. I quite liked these humourless punk bands-Maybe that's unfair on the Clash-but I didn't really see all the possibilities that were available and yet suddenly with 'Poor Old Soul' it was a complete revelation. I thought it was fantastic. I think Orange Juice were probably the people that set us off on the route to finding out. .... PB: What you wanted to do? GW: Yes, what we wanted to do. We also discovered lots of 60’s music though at the same time. Tim started that off because he was more familiar with that stuff, but to me the Byrds and those bands were another total revelation. As well as the Byrds, we also listened to the Loving Spoonful, and the Mamas And Papas. We were in California (Laughs). PB: Exactly. At that time in the 80’s, if you mentioned the Byrds, then it was a real 60's trip because people didn't know them. GW : It's kind of weird the way things have developed since the 80's. Postcard were like the pioneers of the whole indiepop scene. Then in the mid 80's with C-86 or Cutey, or whatever you want to call it, everyone was finding out about these bands, but you had to literally go out and find out about them yourself because there was no received knowledge about any of this stuff. You had to educate yourself. There was nowhere to go. PB: It wasn't like there was 'Uncut' telling you? GW : It wasn't like there was was something saying these are the records you need to know. You had to find out for yourself and that's what everyone was doing, which in many ways is a nicer way of finding out. PB: It's easier nowadays because you have the internet saying you need these albums. You click on a search engine and find out about them, whereas before you had to really hunt for them. GW: Exactly I don't think it's so much fun now. It's like everyone turns up at 16 years old now and there's a list of things that they have to listen too in any way to be credible. That's kind of a shame because it was very magical ,especially if you look back to when we were really young and going through the whole punk thing. It was a whole revolution. PB: The name 'The Razorcuts' came from the Buzzcocks' song 'Love You More'?, didn’t it ? GW : It did indeed. Yeah ! PB: I don't know the actual lyric? GW : It's just simply 'Until the razor cuts'. Yeah we were very much indebted to the Buzzcocks both for my vocal style, and also for things like that as well. I think probably in retrospect I have actually used the Buzzcocks as a template for Sportique as well. They are a massive band. You can't under estimate how important the Buzzcocks are. PB: With them it was single after single after single. GW : Exactly. They did the same as the Byrds did in the mid 60's. The Byrds probably had the best run of fantastic singles that anyone has ever had. PB: They said on the sleevenotes of the remaster of 'Mr Tambourine Man’, the first Byrds CD, that everyone of its 12 tracks could have been singles. It was that really which opened bands up to not just doing 4 song albums and the rest of the albums as fillers. GW : Exactly, yeah, so by putting those two major forces together we fell over with that. We liked both those things and those elements. If you are from Luton with a Southern English accent you are not going to be singing with some fantastic American accent. It was a terrible accident really, putting those two elements together. It was a fantastic accident as well, beause it actually worked.There wasn’t any plan at the time. PB: How did the working relationship with you and Tim work because you wrote the tune and Tim wrote the words. Did you find it strange singing someone else's words or did you think you were not strong enough lyrically to write the words at that time? GW : At that time, there was a couple of songs that I wrote the words for, but, to be honest, they weren’t very good and they don't really survive the test of time. When we were going, Tim was the stronger lyricist. He was, therefore, the man to do it. Things have moved on now and I became more confident about lyrical content. At that time I was really happy with the arrangement because it was really strong material. It really worked for me and it was hitting all the right notes. We were... PB: Expressing the same feelings... GW : Yeah, but it wasn't just the two of us. We also triggered off a reaction in our audience which was important as well. Tim is actually writing lyrics for me at the moment for my new solo album. I have got him back in because I'm not as confident about writing lyrics anymore. He is a strong lyricist when you get down to relationship issues and emotions, so, yeah, I was never uncomfortable with that. It is very unfair to say it was a 100 % split between the two of us, with Tim doing the lyrics, and me the music. What tended to happen was I might have the idea for a song title and a melody and then Tim would work on the song structure with me. It wasn't like I would turn up with and go “This is how it goes." Tim did contribute to the construction of the songs, so the musicality of the band was just a balance between the two of us and he contributed to it as much as me. I think it's unfair to say Tim couldn't write music because he could. PB: You are credited on ‘R is for Razorcuts’ with being on three labels-Flying Nun, Subway and Creation. Which was the first label that you appeared on ? GW : The first label we were on was the Subway Organization. Martin Whitehead, its owner, who was based in Bristol, came over to see the first Razorcuts gig we played in Oxford. It was a gig with us and Talulah Gosh. I think it was the very first Talulah Gosh gig (If this is correct, it was at Worcester College Oxford 7.3.86-AS ) He came up from Bristol because I sent him a demo tape and we did a few singles with him. It seemed the right thing to do at the time. The Soup Dragons were happening at the time and were on the label . The Shop Assistants whom I really liked were also there. Everyone at the time knew each other. PB: That was the thing with C-86, wasn’t it ? Everyone knew each other? GW : It was a very small scene. I guess it's been very influential as a template as to what indiepop became, but at the time it was quite small and it was so much better because of that. PB: Do you think that scene changed once NME released their C-86 tape (Influential cassette only compilation released in 1986, which documented the mood of the British indie scene at the time, and featured early songs by bands bands such as the Wedding Present, the Pastels, Primal Scream McCarthy, the Soup Dragons and the Close Lobsters-Ed) ? GW : Hmm! PB: Because the scene was happening before that, about a year before. GW : It's kind of weird that whole thing? It was influential and important at the time, I guess. It was kind of weird because it was the NME pushing a bunch of no hope indie bands who were never going to sell any records. You can't imagine that happening now. They wouldn't do that. Did it change ? I don't think it changed that much. It's just bizarre that in those days that the NME actually did support indie music. PB: Which it doesn't do as much now! GW: It's a comic now. PB: But then again I don't think people support music like they use to because now the internet has come along, and there are things like playstations and DVDs. People now have other things to occupy their time. GW: Yeah. PB: Also, if you are still into music, it's no longer a proud thing to say I have the new album by such a such. One of my first interviews, during my days in which I was writing my own fanzine Independent Underground Sound was was with the Primal Scream co-founder and ex-member James Beattie. He told me that "once upon a time" that if you bought 'Never Mind The Bollocks' and you walked down the road with it, it was a statement. Now you buy a CD, and put it in your pocket, noone knows if you have brought anything. GW: That's a very valid point. I remember we played with Primal Scream at one of their first gigs in London, and we had been wound up so much by Alan McGee and Dick Green on what a scary bastard James Beattie was that we were shaking in our boots. He was the nicest guy you could meet. He is a beautiful guy. They built him up with this huge reputation, like they did with lots of stuff on Creation. PB: I have just about finished reading the Creation book 'My Magpie Eyes are Hungry for the Prize' and you are not mentioned in it at all ? GW: Yeah. PB: Were you upset about that ? GW: No. PB: It's a great book. GW: Is that the David Cavanagh one ? PB: Yeah. GW: Tim was interviewed for that book and he is quoted in it. Tim's theory is that, although David Cavanugh met up with him and he was a nice guy, he hated the Razorcuts. He didn't want to stick the knife in so they just left us out (laughs) which I find kind of bizarre, because when 'Storyteller' came out that was the biggest seller on Creation at the time. It's kind of weird. PB: The golden era of C-86 was between '87 and '91 ? The Razorcuts were around for all of it. On the whole did you enjoy the experience ? GW: We started as the Razorcuts in '84 in its formative phase. I guess then we were doing a very early template of it in which we were working out what we were doing. Yeah, I have got very, very happy memories of that time. It was a fantastic scene, It was always fantastic to be able to go into a different town in the UK-we didn't play abroad-in which everyone liked you. You didn't have to explain yourself. People just understood naturally. There was an immediate sympathy between people at the time and it was great, because it wasn't a big scene. It just fitted within the context of the music. PB: It was a cool little club scene. GW: The music and the scene itself fitted perfectly with each other. It was also a genuine underground movement. That sort of thing only works well when it's almost below the radar of the major media. If it goes above the radar, then it loses it magic. We managed to stay under that radar the whole time (Laughs). We used to rehearse in the same place in London as Primal Scream and there were lot of similarities in what we were doing. I think they managed to maybe define that sound more than we did. We were ham-fisted about it. I don't mean that in a bad way. We were like kids in a sweet show eating everything we could and they took a step back and developed their sound a little bit more than we did. Yeah, there were obvious similarities between us until Primal Scream went and got into their rock 'n' roll thing. PB: You mean in the period after 'Sonic Flower Groove' (which eventually resulted in their second album 'Primal Scream'-AS) ? GW: Yeah ! We went to see them in late '87, early '88. It was just outside Aylesbury and Alan told that Primal Scream had moved away from their jingly pop thing and he saw Razorcuts as filling their place in Creation. We signed to Creation after them and that's the way he saw us developing-with floppy fringe and being 60's types-as Primal Scream were moving onto their next thing. It didn't happen though because we got bored of hanging out with all of those Creation types. We loved it in the early '80's. When the Living Room was going, we were totally into that but it kind of lost its appeal to us. As soon as you don't make yourself visible in that scene, you are history. PB: You never had the strongest singing voice but neither did Bobby Gillespie. GW: (Laughs) PB: Primal Scream, however, went off in a different direction. After getting into rock, they then got into soul and so on, and ended up playing Brixton Academy, while you continued playing the same sized venues ? Were you happy with the way the Razorcuts progressed ? GW: Yeah. PB: Did you ever wish that you had gone that way too or were you happy with what you were doing and have been doing? GW: I think in some strange way you maintain more credibility if you don't go in that direction PB: One of my friends says that Bobby Gillespie has never had an original thought in his whole life (which I think is a bit unfair). He has read every book, listened to every record and taken bits from certain people. It has made him rich, but he has lost some of his street credibility because of that. GW: It's difficult, I don't have a problem with what Primal Scream have done really. I just feel you have to make compromises to persue fame and fortune. I have been around now for 20 years playing and I'm quite happy with our body of work and with the terms of reference in what we do. I don't like the music business. I would much rather be regarded as an outsider to the music business. That's one of the major reasons why we haven't pushed on and tried to achieve world domination. If you do that you have to get heavily involved in the music business and the music business is full of arseholes who just want to make money. I don't want to make money that much. I would prefer to make the music that I make than that. PB: I take it then Sportique is more like a hobby and that you have a day job? GW: I don't actually have a day job. I quit my day job, but not to pursue Sportique. I wouldn't go along with the term hobby to decribe making music, because it's something that takes up too much time and it's for real. There's nothing artificial about it. It's the real deal, but we are not under any illusions, to be quite honest about the situation, that we are going to make a lot of money out of it in the near future. Part 2 of Anthony Strutt's interview with Gregory Webster about the Razorcuts will follow next month.....

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Razorcuts - Interview with Gregory Webster Part 1

Razorcuts - Interview with Gregory Webster Part 1

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Interview with Gregory Webster Part 2 (2003)
Razorcuts - Interview with Gregory Webster Part 2
in the second part of our interview with the influential C86 band the Razorcuts, frontman Gregory Webster talks to Anthony Strutt about the group's eventual break-up, and why he has never been tempted to reform it


A is for Alphabet EP (2003)
Excellent 5 track EP of beautifully remastered material from the classic late 80's indiepop group the Razorcuts
R is for...Razorcuts (2002)

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