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Beatnik Filmstars - Interview with Andrew Jarrett

  by Dixie Ernill

published: 17 / 3 / 2006

Beatnik Filmstars - Interview with Andrew Jarrett


Formed in the late 1980's out of the ashes of Bristol indie act the Groove Farm, the Beatnik Filmstars have returned with their first album in 7 years. Frontman Andrew Jarrett talks to Dixie Ernill about his 20 year musical history

In these manufactured times it is refreshing that some musicians make music regardless of fashion or fads and Andrew Jarrett is one such unsung hero. Starting out as the fresh-faced mop top singer of Bristol indie-pop combo the Groove Farm in the mid 1980’s, his current band the Beatnik Filmstars are back after a 7 year break with stunning new long player 'In Great Shape' to be released any day now on the uber-cool Track and Field label. Having corresponded with Andrew for over 10 years now I thought it was about time to get the lowdown on his 20 year musical journey. PB : As it is 20 years since C86 became a music press buzz phrase, I want to take you back to your first adventures in music with the Groove Farm. What was the music scene like in Bristol back then? AJ : It was a very positive time, and quite exciting. I can remember there were so many bands playing and people putting on gigs that often I'd be out four or five nights a week. I can even remember going to two different shows on the same evening, on more than one occasion. It was certainly a special time, and I don't think there's been anything like it since! PB : Was there a rivalry or camaraderie between the bands? AJ : A little bit of both. I think like everything else it all starts off being friendly, but then as some bands start to do better than others a bit of back-stabbing sets in, but I don't recall much rivalry really. I mean there's always a certain amount of rivalry...well, maybe not rivalry so much, but there's always a certain amount of wanting to be better than the rest and every band that's ever existed are liars if they say that's not true. A certain amount of 'we're a brilliant band' type of attitude is okay and can be quite a positive thing. After all it's important to believe in what it is you're doing. But then you get some people who take that attitude to the extreme, which instantly turns me off... PB : What were your favourite records and bands at that time? AJ : I loved the Flatmates at the start, because they were such a shambles, but also could knock out a great two minute pop song, but as they started to get serious and try to 'make it' I kind of went off them. The whole point of their existence for me was a bunch of friends having fun. But when you start kicking out your best friend, to replace him with someone who is a better drummer so you have more chance of getting into the charts, and spending all the money you owe to other bands on your label on expensive producers for your own band's records, with double packs, a tacky badge and so on in a desperate attempt to follow the Darling Buds into the chart (and who'd want to follow them anywhere?!) that's no longer fun. Although, having said that, I know there has been in the past a lot of bad feeling between the Groove Farm, and Martin Flatmate/Subway Records, But in some ways I can understand what happened, as being in a band is a bit of a weird existence, and when other people like managers and agents all start getting involved, it is all too easy to get sucked into the whole machine, and that is probably what happened. There are things though on the Flatmates web site, in the 'story of' which are untrue. For example he claims Tim Rippington(who played in the Flatmates for about a year)was kicked out of the Beatniks which simply wasn't true! It's obvious to me that old wounds still haven't healed. But I have to say they were a real inspiration early on, just the fact that I thought, look at them, they're not brilliant musicians, but they're making a great sound, was enough to get me to get the Groove Farm out of the rehearsal room, and onto a stage. Another Bristol band, the Brilliant Corners were certainly one of the best bands and I loved their records up until just after the 'Joy Ride' mini LP, but then as they tried to lose their pop sound and become long haired rock stars I lost interest. But for the time from '84 to '88, Davey Woodward's songs and lyrics were totally fantastic. I loved, and I still do, Jesse Garon and the Desperadoes, surely one of the most under-rated bands in the history of pop music. You only need to hear 'The Rain Fell Down' to understand what I mean. Talulah Gosh were another band who were really quite amazing. It's easy to scoff and drag up the old 'twee' insults, but quite frankly, do I care? I do not! They had it all, the perfect band. There were a lot of brilliant bands around then, and even more terrible ones! The Groove Farm I like to think, were one of the good ones, although as John (Groove Farm's guitarist) recently pointed out to me, the records we left behind are quite poor really, but as a live band we were quite brilliant. PB: I think you are being a little harsh there. Most bands are better live because it's not just a sound thing - there is the visual aspect, the alcoholic aspect and the whole vibe of a great gig to throw into the mix. Rest-assured, the Groove Farm made some great records. AJ : Yes, but when you consider the Beatles who generally are regarded as 'The' pop band of all pop bands, and that Lennon once said he would have liked to re-record pretty much their whole catalogue, it kind of proves that, people in bands always think they can do better, except for really bad bands who tend to think they're God's gift.... PB : Sarah Records were also set up in Bristol around this time; was there ever a possibility of signing for them? AJ : I think perhaps if we'd asked nicely they might have said yes, but around the time they set up we were beginning to go through our rather pointless attempt at trying to lose the indie-pop tag we'd had stapled to our sou'westers from the word go. Our attempts basically meant recording songs that went on for six minutes, when three would have been ample, and over usage of the wah wah pedal...but then, you live and learn. I was also wary of the fact that some people would buy Sarah records because they were collecting, rather than because of the music, and I don't like that kind of attitude. It would have been good to be on Sarah Records, because although I still think Sarah was a terrible name for a record label at least 30 of their records were quite stunning, and they probably were the best record label ever to have existed, simply because of their fantastic attitude. Their 'A Day For Destroying Things' when they finished the label with a show on the Thekla (a boat) was the ultimate punk rock thing they could have possibly done. Amazing! Most labels who were becoming as successful as Sarah was, would never just end it all. They'd milk every last penny out of people that they could. PB : After the demise of the Groove Farm, the Beatnik Filmstars were formed, with your debut album, 'Maharishi', being much slower and mellower than the Groove Farm records. Was this a deliberate departure or did it just reflect a shift in your musical tastes? AJ : A little bit of both. We knew it was pointless making another record that sounded exactly like the Groove Farm, but with a different name on the label. There were a stack load of songs recorded early on, and some of them were loud and fuzzy, and some of them were a bit odd. But the LP ended up being quite mellow, because we wanted to make a point it was a new group, not just a continuation of the Groove Farm, so a lot of the faster stuff was shelved, which now I kind of regret. It should have had a bit more variation on it, but then....you live and learn! PB : Over the following 6 or 7 years the Beatnik Filmstars were quite prolific in their output, with a vast array of singles and LPs for several different labels, which makes a mockery of some artists taking years between records. Does song-writing come very naturally to you? AJ : Sometimes it does, and sometimes I'll slave over a song for weeks. I like it best when it all happens quickly. I would like to point out that, although I tend to come up with songs quite fast, I never ever just think "that'll do". I work like a demon making sure every single word is as good as I can get it. I'm pretty sure that it doesn't sound like it. I'm sure most of our songs sound like they were knocked out in the commercial break during 'Coronation Street'! But a lot of heart and soul is put into each and every one. Although sometimes working at the rate we did, the occasional duff track does slip through, because you don't have the time to think, umm, maybe that ones a bit...er...rubbish. This time, I'm slowing things down a bit, but not as much as bands who record one album ever three to four years...that's just lazy, or else they're only interested about making money. I love putting out records and CDs. Even at my age now, I still get a real excitement at opening the box and seeing what they look like when they just been made. We're all like that in the Beatniks. We really love pop music. We do work at a fast rate yes, but I could point to songs such as 'Romances Final Image' from 'Boss Disque' and also 'Atlas' from 'In Hospitalable', both of which took years to get right. 'Atlas' was being played in the set in 1991, and didn't get released until 1997. 'Romances' was first recorded in 1994 and didn't get released until 1998, so we don't always just knock 'em out! Sometimes they go through countless changes and different recordings before we settle for one we like. We still get it wrong sometimes, like 'Tense' From the mini LP 'All Popstars Are Talentless Slags', that came out in 1997, and yet 'Tense' was the first song that we recorded, and nearly made it on 'Maharishi' After that near miss, a version was recorded for every EP and LP we made, and it wasn't until the 'Slags' mini LP we finally used it thinking we'd got it about right... and now I really wish we hadn't bothered, because I don't like it at all. It even got used in a Channel 4 film, 'See Red' and I still cringe when I hear it! PB : Your songs are not the typical boy meets girl stuff. What influences your lyrics and what comes first the tune of the words? AJ : Whatever pops into my head at the time I'm afraid is the only possible answer I can give. It's life from the way I see things I guess. I know I don't see things exactly like most people do. I know some people think I'm a bit weird because of the words, and perhaps compared to most of the world's population, I am. But what can I say? I am me, and, yes, there's no one else quite like me. Morrissey once sang 'Sing Your Life' and he was right. It's the only way. PB : So you'd normally have a rough idea of the lyrics before you knock the music together? AJ : Not always. But often I'll have a few words l like, or a good title, and the rest follows on...and on...and on...and..... PB : Not wishing to sound like Nick Hornby, but I've always been fascinated with lists of favourite tracks/groups/gigs etc. Can you indulge me with your following top fives:- AJ : I can only try. I hate lists. I hate questions like what record would you take to a desert island...it's like asking which arm you'd rather lose...I don't want to lose an arm, and I don't want to take just one record...I want them all. What ever answer I put down, tomorrow would be different, because it all comes down to moods I'm in and what day of the week it is. But for what it's worth here goes... Groove Farm songs Just a Silly Phase I'm Going Through It Always Rains on Sundays Surfin' into Your Heart (as a song, but not the record version!) Never Going to Fall in Love Again Basil (even though that one does deserve the Wedding Present comparisons!) Beatnik Filmstar songs My favourite songs are all totally new ones that we're currently recording, 'For Your Stereo', 'The Undisputed King Of Rock & Roll ('Bono's Ego Saves The World)', 'Bath Time'...these are my favourites, but as they're not released and won't be for a while, I'll pick five from the records that are out Free Hearing Aids For the Blind Really Quite Bizarre Bigot Sponger Haircut Policy Play That) Wonky Music (White Boy) I Eat Healthy Food Smiths songs This Charming Man Nowhere Fast There Is a Light... Sweet and Tender Hooligan Paint A Vulgar Picture (I think the Moz needs to have another listen to this one!) Morrissey songs Nobody Loves Us Boxers Will Never Marry A Swallow On My Neck Glamorous Glue 7" singles My favourite 7" singles are mostly old records from the 1960's because I love the labels and the sleeves from that time. But I can't really pick five without causing myself my heartache and distress. Songs These five songs are very special to me, for different reasons, But I still think my Top 5 would be different if you asked me again next week... Pet Shop Boys - Your Funny Uncle Louis Armstrong -What A Wonderful World Belle and Sebastian -The Stars Of Track & Field Dexys Midnight Runners -There, There My Dear R. Dean Taylor -There's A Ghost In My House Groups It's again quite impossible to list five groups when so many have meant so much to me throughout the years, but I've managed to name five that have all at some point been my favourite ever band. There are so many more that I will feel guilty about for not including. Belle and Sebastian Dexys Midnight Runners Jesse Garon and The Desperadoes The Undertones Galaxie 500 Gigs Watched Talulah Gosh at the EEC Punk Rock Mountain Morrissey at The Colston Hall on the 'Your Arsenal' tour The Wedding Present somewhere in the North of Engand on the 'George Best' tour where the PA speakers fell over. Belle and Sebastian, Colston Hall 2006 Pavement, The Anson Rooms around the 'Crooked Rain' time... PB: For your perusal, my Top 5 songs are:- 1. Brilliant Corners - Meet Me on Tuesdays 2. Smiths - Hand That Rocks the Cradle 3. Broadcast _Come On Let's Go 4. Trash Can Sinatras or Lulu version - To Sir with Love 5. Jens Lekman -I Saw Her In The Anti-War Demonstration But tomorrow there could well be a different 2, 3, 4, 5. AJ : 'To Sir With Love' is a great song. PB : I once bought a Cud 12" off Stuart Murdoch (Belle & Sebastian singer-Ed) long before his band became famous and now inadvertently have his autograph in a "thanks for the cheque, Stuart Murdoch" kind of way. I buy all their 7" singles, but only have a couple of their LPs. They are a great band and 'The Stars of Track and Field' is a great track. AJ : Yes it's one of those songs that just get's you in all the right places... Belle and Sebastian have a great knack of doing that quite often. PB : A few years ago you reformed the Groove Farm for a gig. How did that come about and was it good to revisit old ground? AJ : It was just because we felt like having a good old laugh! We said we'd do it just the once, and we did, It was a right old shambles, just like the old days, guitars breaking, stuff falling over, wrong notes all over the shop, but at the same time, it was quite magical, and really rather good. So good in fact we really should do it just once more, one day, while our legs can still walk us onto a stage, without the aid of Zimmer frames. PB : It that just a throw-away comment or are there some plans to have another one-off gig? AJ : I don't think any of the others would agree to it, without the aid of someone offering stack loads of cash, and unless somewhere there's an eccentric millionaire Groove Farm fan desperate to see the band one more time...it's doubtful. PB: After the Beatnik Filmstars called it a day in the late 1990's, you embarked on a couple of really lo-fi projects, Kyoko and the Bluebear that both seemed to suffer from a lack of press interest. There are some great tracks released under both guises, which will probably only be heard by a lucky few. Would you agree that they were probably a bit too lo-fi? AJ : Kyoko was getting raved about by everyone we came into contact with. We had record labels saying they thought the music was great, and yet none of them offered to release the records. Pet Sounds Records released the final album, 'Unpure Disco', and they used a press agent and we ended up with one review! A good one, but one! Really! Apparently the editors from magazines were saying it was a stunning CD. They totally loved it, but they couldn't write about it, because they didn't see the band going anywhere, or fitting in anywhere...Very, very sad, but this is the gospel truth. This is how the music industry works. It's not about music. It's about money. I'm sure if we'd have had the records released by someone a bit cool, like say, Domino, we'd have stuck at it and done okay. The Bluebear was the same, I was told it was great but no one offered to lend a helping hand, and around that point is when I started to get a bit unwell, well, really unwell actually but I don't want to dwell too much on that. (It was nothing to do with bands or music. I'd suffered from depression since a very young age, but hadn't really realised it, just thought I was a unhappy kind of person) I really kind of lost interest in doing anything at all. The thought of travelling around playing shows and trying to get people to take notice was the last thing I wanted to do, so I just went and lived in a wooden shack in the country with my dog for a few years. Too lo-fi ? I don't know...Some of the Beatniks stuff I'd describe as too lo-fi more than the Bluebear or Kyoko stuff. In some ways perhaps it's just as well it happened this way, because if we'd have been more successful, and were doing a lot of stuff, I wouldn't have discovered that I was unwell, and managed to do something positive about it, and who knows where that would have led... PB: All this brings us full circle to 2006 and the unexpected but most welcome return of The Beatnik Filmstars. What brought about the reformation? AJ : I said in 1998 that I would do some more Beatnik Filmstars stuff if ever I felt like it. I just took a long time to start feeling like it. One day in January of last year I just started messing around with some instruments for the first time in five years, and I recorded a few tunes. I played them to a friend who said they were good, and sounded like Beatnik songs. Anyway, I spoke to Tom Adams who said he was up for doing some drumming, and then Tim Rippington, who was pleased to play guitar and do some recording. I did point out that there was to be no plan, no goals, I said if the songs turn out good and anyone wants to release them, that's fine, but I won't break my back over it, and I won't get too hung up with it all, because quite honestly it can take over your life. John Austin didn't want to get back into doing anything, although he plays guitar on two tracks on the album (un-credited...his choice) and then bassist Jerry Francis who has moved away from Bristol was visiting and he wanted to play on the tracks as well....and hey presto, as easy as that. Obviously as Jerry doesn't live here anymore, he couldn't commit to further events, although I wouldn't be surprised to find him guesting on a track or two in the future. We looked around and found Geoff Gorton who plays bass and Maurice Roche who is on keyboards, started rehearsing and it's sounding great. I sent two CDs off in the UK, and one was obviously to the Track and Field Organisation, as I happen to really love their label. They are seriously the best record label in the UK at the moment easily! Just listen to the new Essex Green CD and then try telling me I'm wrong. Anyway, they said they loved it, and would like to release it. Stew in the USA who had pretty much shut up shop with 555 Records, liked it and sorted out a distribution and manufacturing deal with Darla, who again are great, and really good people to work with, so there you have it...It just all fell into line. It was obvious to everyone who knows me, that it would happen at some point. It's in the blood. I can't help myself. PB : What does the future hold in terms of more releases and live shows? AJ : No big plans, a few shows here and there, as and when we can and feel like it. We have started recording a new LP which, at this early stage, is promising to be the best Beatnik Filmstars record ever. I am working like crazy making sure every track will be quite special. I have asked Tim to make sure I don't slip into my ultra lo-fi mode, as I want the next LP to be more mid-fi than lo-fi. The songs are taking a special new direction, with a slight soulful feel. But knowing my luck, it will sound stunning and no one will want to release it! But I think it's coming along so well, I'd end up releasing it myself if that was the case, because I honestly think it's an award winner! Ha! Of course it's not finished yet, so it could all end up going pear shaped. PB: Will a return to touring the USA, where you seem to have been more readily accepted than the UK, be on the cards? AJ : I hope so because we are genuinely loved by a lot of people in America, and it would be great to get to go back over, play some shows and thank them all for their kind support. There is some talk about touring in America, but at present it's just that...talk. But I'm not in a hurry; it will happen if it's supposed to. It's not like we're trying to become the next big thing. We've been around the block a few times too many ! PB : Why do you think you are more appreciated across the pond? AJ : Because, they have college radio, so our records got played a lot and therefore heard by a lot more people, where as in the UK we had John Peel and that was it. Also we often got features in US publications, and the record reviews were generally quite stunning. Americans are not quite so easily led by fads and trends. Sure, it happens to some extent, but not in the way it did, and probably still does in Britain. The NME had the power to start a trend, and to kill it dead when they were bored with it. For some bizarre reason, the English public followed them like a herd of little lost sheep...You don't get that so much in America. I think they like our English charm as well, and who could blame them? Or perhaps they simply have better taste... PB : As a final all embracing question to capture the imagination of fans new and old and cement Andrew Jarrett firmly in the annals of rock history, what colour is your favourite Smartie? AJ : I don't know who you're referring to. My name is Anders. No second name, like Madonna, Kylie and Cher......but my favourite colour smartie is red, and no doubt this says something quite shocking and reviling about my personality. PB : Whatever you say 'Anders', just keep making great music! AJ : I can only try. PB : Thank you. Ceck out www.beatnikfilmstars.co.uk for more information

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Beatnik Filmstars - Interview with Andrew Jarrett

Beatnik Filmstars - Interview with Andrew Jarrett

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541 The John Peel Sessions (2005)
Superb retrospective compilation from under-rated Bristol indiepop act the Beatnik Filmstars which collates together the 5 Peel sessions they recorded between 1995 and 1998

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