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Brian James Gang - Interview Part 2

  by John Clarkson

published: 18 / 5 / 2007

Brian James Gang - Interview Part 2


In the second part of our three part interview with former Damned guitarist Brian James, he talks to John Clarkson about touring America as part of Iggy Pop's band and forming the Lords of the Church with wild man of rock, the late Stiv Bators, and that's group spectacular on stage break-up

PB : Your next band after the Damned was Tanz der Youth. Where did that name come from ? BJ : It came from an old movie poster that I found in Berlin. It was a poster for a Roman Polanski film called 'Dance of the Vampires', which is also known as 'The Fearless Vampire Killers'. In German 'Dance of the Vampires' translates as 'Tanz der Vampires', so I thought that Tanz der Youth would be kind of neat. It would make a good name for a band- Dance of the Youth and all that. It also didn't sound very punk. I was trying to move away from the punk thing by that time in 1978, because everybody and their fucking sons were joining punk bands, and being punky and basically copying the first bands that had come along. It seemed to me that they were all sitting in their own kind of uniform whereas the whole point of punk was meant to be about expressing yourself and doing your own thing and being different. I wanted to do something to rebel against that. PB : You described Tanz der Youth at the time as "transmagical" and "the sound of the 80's". What did you mean by that ? BJ : I used the word transmagical because I wanted to put it in my own box before some bright spark started calling it psychedelic or something else, which of course they did. I wanted to get the first word in there before the press stuck it in any boxes. PB : Tanz der Youth were kicked off a support slot on Black Sabbath tour, weren’t they ? BJ : It wasn't that hard. It was like chalk and cheese really. The Sabbath guys were great to us really. Full marks to them, but I think we lasted about five or six dates before their management got rid of us. We gave Van Halen their first big break in the UK as they replaced us. PB : So what happened to Tanz der Youth ? BJ : We got as far as doing a single, ‘I’m Sorry, I’m Sorry’, and then things just went to jelly. It had all been a bit put together, rather than coming together its own way. In the Damned we hit off each other and we were something of a gang, but with Tanz der Youth we just didn't seem to spark. As much as I thought I wanted to do something against punk I quickly found that I was itching to play some rock 'n' roll again. Tanz der Youth had a synthesiser player for a start, and I soon tired of that. The drummer, Alan Powell, had been in Hawkwind. There were some very good ideas coming out, but the different personalities in the group didn’t fit together to make the most of those ideas. It just didn't happen. We gave it a shot. It was an experiment, but it didn’t work. PB : And after that you went off and played guitar with Iggy Pop for two months. BJ : That was fucking great. Glen Matlock was playing bass for Iggy at the same time. The main thing about Glen being there was he was another Englishman and he was also a mate. We had obviously known each other since the beginning of punk. We had a lot of laughs on that tour. PB : Did you tour Britain and Europe ? BJ : No. It was an American and Canadian tour, but it was so successful we started off in New York and worked our way over to the West Coast, and then we found ourselves working our way back again, re-treading where we had just come from because we were playing sell-outs. It was really, really good. PB : You never went into the studio with Iggy. Was that a big regret ? BJ : Well, I had my own band, the Brains, at the time. I didn’t want to ditch my band for two or three months to go on tour with Iggy, so he kindly paid their wages while I was away. It wasn't an amazing sum. It was probably like a fiver a week, but it was sill fucking great. After the tour was over there was talk about continuing the band, but the guys in the Brains had been hanging waiting for me and I had a bunch of songs I wanted to get on with, so I decided to go home. I have always been a guitarist/songwriter. Once I wrote my first song I didn't really want to play other people's songs. I played with my hero and got that out of my system. I had fulfilled this dream which I thought would never occur. In rehearsals we had basically gone through the whole Stooges back catalogue, finding out which songs worked for the band and which ones didn't, and had also done a whole lot of newer songs. I had learnt a lot from that and also working with Iggy, but I thought that it was time that I got back on my own track. PB : Did the Brains record anything ? BJ : No. We went into the studio a few times but nothing got released. Another thing which happened when I toured with Iggy was I renewed a friendship with Stiv Bators. The Damned and the Dead Boys had played together regularly. We went over to New York to play CBGB’s and we did showcases together with the Dead Boys, two shows a night. They would go on first, and we would go on second, and then they would go on third after us, and then we went on fourth after them. Then the Dead Boys came over and supported us the Damned when we were touring with 'Music for Pleasure'. Stiv and I had become like brothers. Sometimes you meet people and you think you are going to be friends forever and it would be great to get a band together one day, little thinking that it will happen, but then as a result a serious of events Stiv and I started to work together and eventually formed the Lords of the New Church. I found that he was a very easy guy to write songs and to work with. It was like having my own Iggy Pop. He had an amazing sense of humour. One thing a lot of people don’t know about Stiv is that he was the funniest little fucker. He was one of the sweetest people I ever met. He is thoroughly missed, dearly missed. PB : The Lords of the New Church recorded a lot in the first few years you were together. You brought out an album a year between 1982 and 1984, but hardly anything after that and until you split in 1989. What happened there ? BJ : We initially felt very stimulated playing together and wrote and recorded a lot. The first two albums, ‘Lords of the New Church’ and ‘Is Nothing Sacred ?’, went really, really well. ‘Method to Our Madness’, the third album, was more of a struggle. The record company wanted to get a producer in, because we had produced the first two and the band was losing its dynamic a bit. Dave Tregenna, our first bass player left, then Nicky Turner, the drummer, left and then after that a whole series of other situations started going wrong. It was like a fucking car. It runs great for a couple of years, and then slowly things start to fall off. Things started to run out of steam basically. We lived hard. It was a tough band. We did a lot of partying, and, while we were also writing a lot and it was at one level a very productive time, it had a sell by date and a life expectancy and that is what happened there. PB : There is a story about Stiv hanging himself on stage and being declared clinically dead. Is there any truth in that ? BJ : He used to do the hanging thing back in the Dead Boys and made a fine art of it. He had fine tuned it. He was never declared clinically dead, but he liked to play tricks and scared the bejeebers out of us. There was one time when we were playing at a place called the Milky Way in Amsterdam. He did the hanging trick and we really thought he had done it that night. We cut him down and there was fucking hardly any pulse on him and so we called an ambulance, because the ambulance crews do the emergency stuff over there. Before they arrived we were all shouting at him “Stiv ! Stiv ! If you can hear us at all, and this is a fucking wind up, another wind up, now is the time to get up” And he waited right until the ambulance crew walked in the door. We were all a little paranoid anyway because we had all been smoking joints because we were in Amsterdam and as you do. Then all these straight people came marching in with their uniforms on and Stiv was laying there fucking as stiff as a board and we were like “Oh fuck !” and then he just sat up and said “Pricked you. Pricked you”(Laughs). We could have happily killed him ourselves. This happened, not on a regular basis, but a few times. He was the funniest little fucker in the world. You would be like “You fucking little shit” with him, but you always forgave him five minutes later. PB : That band broke up in pretty traumatic circumstances. BJ : Yeah, it did. Everything we did was pretty traumatic really. PB : What is the story of the break-up and Stiv firing all the members of the band on stage at your last ever gig ? BJ : It first started when Nina, my wife, had a baby. Afterwards we had this tour coming up. I really didn’t want to leave them. I was knackered. Everybody was knackered, but we had a tour coming up and so I said to the rest of the band “How about getting in a stand in guitar player , so I can spend a little bit of time with Nina and my son ?” The group weren’t sure at first, but after a while they agreed and so we got this guy, a New Yorker, to replace me. He was a fair guitar player and I showed him the songs, and the different angles on the songs, and the way I played them, but when it got to the stage of him taking over from me I just couldn’t let him do it. I said to the rest of the band “I can’t do this. I won’t feel right if you guys are out there doing this and I am not” and they were like “We really don’t want you to do this either, Brian. He’s not you. He’s a good guitar player in his own right, but he ain’t you and your style is part of the Lords.” In the end I ended up doing the tour, but that kind of sowed the seed about having a deputy in the band. A few months later we had this huge tax bill come in which we weren’t expecting. We weren’t going to be gigging, but we thought “Fuck it ! We’ve got to get some money in to pay off some of this tax bill here”. Stiv by this time had met this girl called Caroline, a French girl, and he was living in Paris. We booked a couple of fly in and fly out festival dates, and a tour after that. We were like “Okay, Stiv, we are going to do these shows in April” and he was like “I don’t want to do them” and we were like “Come on, man. We’ve got to do this to pay this fucking tax bill.” There was one show in Spain. Stiv couldn’t drink. He could stay up for six nights doing speed and stuff, but give him a few drinks and it would totally wipe him out. We got over there and he was knocking back tequila like it had gone out of style. He was like “Give me another one. Give me another one” and we were like “Bators, don’t do this or they won’t even let you on the plane going back. You’re doing yourself in. Your body can’t take it. It really can’t.” He was doing it to spite us because he didn’t want to do these gigs, and so he and I ended up having a blazing row. I said to him “No one wants to do these gigs. I don’t want to leave my fucking wife and son. Everyone’s knackered, but we’re going to do these fucking gigs. Right”. And he said “Get another fucking singer in, like we were going to get in another guitar player in.” And so we said “Who are we going to get in ? Who is going to depute for you” and he said “Well, the only guy I think of is Jim out of the Hypnotics.” There was this band at the time called the Hypnotics, and their singer Jim Jones was heavily influenced by Jim Morrison and a bit of a character. And so I phoned up Jim and he said “I don’t know. I feel weird about it because Stiv is my friend” and I said “He’s the fucker who recommended you” (Laughs), so Jim talked to his manager, but he wouldn’t let him do it because the Hypnotics had recording commitments coming up And so we thought “Okay, what are we going to do now ?” And so we decided to stick an ad in the paper. We thought “If it looks like anyone could possibly do it, and it is a chance in a million, we’ll then introduce him to Stiv.” It was totally open. It was just that Stiv was in Paris and the rest of us were in London tearing our hair out how to do this poxy tour which noone wanted to do anyway. All these people came down, but none of them were right, so we thought “Let’s not even mention this to Bators. We’ve got a couple of London shows coming up, and then we will just have to cancel the rest of the tour”. We should have told him. It was a mistake, but it just didn’t seem like there was any point. And so we did this show at the Astoria in London and sure enough he came on at the end with a T shirt with our ad on it, and started to fire us all. The band was finished. though We had another drummer, Danny, who wasn’t a patch on the original drummer, Nicky Turner. None of us got on with Stiv’s girlfriend. It was like we were doing it for its own sake. It was less than a year after that when he died. I think maybe it would have taken another year, two years and him and I would have worked together again. I don’t know if would have been the Lords or not, but our bond was too strong never to play again. PB : Did it come as a total shock to you when you find out that he had died ? BJ : Oh, man. Yeah but to tell the truth it wasn’t actually until I was at the funeral that it really hit me. The funeral was in Paris, and his Mum and Dad were there, who were beautiful people, lovely people. All these people were there. He had an open coffin. I wanted to get a pin out to stick it into him, because I just wanted to make sure that he was dead. I could see him sitting up and going "Pricked you. Pricked you" because he had done it so many times before , but obviously once we got there the whole enormity of it all really kicked in. It was a big shock. It didn’t hit me so hard when Johnny Thunders died a year later because he wasn't so close to me. Everyone kind of expected Stiv like Johnny to die any time, but at the same there was this Keith Richard thing of he's going to out do us all. He's going to be fucking walking on our graves, that guy. Some people sort of really push it, and Stiv was one of those, but at the same time I really thought that he would outlive us all.

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Brian James Gang - Interview Part 2

Brian James Gang - Interview Part 2

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Interview Part 3 (2007)
Brian James Gang - Interview Part 3
In the third and final part of our interview with former Damned guitarist Brian James, he talks to John Clarkson about his new band the Brian James Gang and the recoding of their eponymous debut album
Interview Part 1 (2007)

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