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Brian James Gang - Interview Part 3

  by John Clarkson

published: 16 / 6 / 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

PB : You then went on and released a solo album, ‘Brian James’, after the Lords of the New Church ended . BJ : Yeah. I had a bunch of riffs hanging about, which I had been messing around with for the Lords, but I hadn't had time to sit down with Stiv to do anything with them. It seemed like the only thing to do really was to release them on my own. The last thing I wanted to do after Stiv had died and the Lords had broken up was to try and find musicians to put another band together. I invited a friend of mine Allan Lee Shaw, who is actually a guitar player, to play bass, while Malcolm, the guy who played drums on that and who is a great drummer, was someone that I grew up with. PB : You then moved to France for a while BJ : Yeah ! My parents died shortly after I did the solo album. Then Guns 'n' Roses announced that they were recording 'New Rose' for their ‘The Spaghetti Incident album’, and my wife and I thought "Well, we're going to have some money coming in here. Let's use this opportunity. The ties here have all been cut away in England. Let's go to France." We had always wanted to live in France for a while, so we thought that we would give it a shot. PB : How long were you there for ? BJ : We were there for about five years.. PB : And what did you do during that time ? BJ : I kept in touch with friends as much as anything else and I also recorded an album with Jimmy Miller entitled 'The Dripping Lips'. PB : That was also the name of the band in the film ‘Abracadabra’ which you worked on, wasn’t it ? BJ : That's how that album came about. This guy, Robbie Kelman, who is a Scottish singer-songwriter but who lives in Belgium, and I were responsible for the soundtrack for the film. A lot of it was incidental music. There were only two or three songs in it, which were going to be featured in a scene in the movie set in a dance hall section, and the director, a guy called Harry Cleven, wanted a band to be playing these songs in the background. He said "How about you, guys ? You guys should do it", so we thought "Well, we've got to think of a name" and the Dripping Lips came up. The name came from the actress Bridget Neilson. She had had all this silicon pumped into her lips at the time and they had started to drip. They had had a leak and she had had to get them put right. We would have stuck at doing the movie, but Robbie had become very friendly with Jimmy Miller. Jimmy was someone that I had always, always admired. He had worked with the Stones and Motorhead, and with Johnny Thunders as well. There was this studio opening in Brussels. I think that it was called Studio Square and Robbie, who was a bit of a hustler, managed to arrange it so that we were the first band to record there. At that time the guy who owned it was still getting the acoustics sorted out in the studio. It looked good on their CV to say that the first people who worked in their studio were Jimmy Miller and Brian James. It was an everybody win situation. We had a great couple of weeks working with Jimmy, who died suddenly shortly afterwards. ‘The Dripping Lips’ was in fact his last album. Apart from that I didn’t make a lot of music when I was in France. I lived near Bordeaux in a place called Arcachon. It is not exactly a rock 'n' roll mecca. It is a very quiet place beside the sea where the oysters come in. It’s got some great wine being so near Bordeaux, but after five years we had had enough. I wanted my son.Charlie to have an English education. I also wanted to start playing music again. I had written a bunch of songs and I wanted to play them. PB : And you moved to Brighton. BJ : Yeah, Brighton. We had been beside the coast in Arcachon. One of the other reasons we had left London was when Charlie was born we were pushing him around in his little buggy and his nose would be on the same level as the exhaust pipes. We thought "No, we ain’t moving back to London", but at the same time we wanted to be convenient for London. Brighton is a little London by the sea really. It's only an hour away. Captain Sensible also lived down here. I got in touch with him and I asked him if he could send some stuff over about renting a place and he did that. It seemed like the obvious place to be. It is in a great position for everything. PB : How long have you been backing Britain for now ? BJ : It's been about eight or nine years now. PB : The first thing the Brian James Gang did was re-record 'New Rose' for an EP which came out last year. You had already re-recorded ‘New Rose’ a few years prior to that for the Boss Tuneage label with a Brighton-based band called the Pig. Why did you decide to re-record it again ? BJ : Because it was the 30th anniversary. Before that it had been the 25th anniversary. I wanted to re-record it for the 30th as well because I thought the 30th was a bit more important. It is the song as well. I really enjoy playing the song. PB : Is it true that the Brian James Gang was formed out of an unsuccessful attempt to reform the Lords of the New Church ? BJ : Yes. Dave Tregunna, the original bass player from the Lords, and I had started playing together again. We had always stayed in touch. He visited me in France and we were really good friends and we had this idea of getting the Lords back together with a new singer. It didn't work out at all, but amongst the drummers we played with while we were doing that was this guy, Steve Murray, who was a friend of Captain Sensible’s. When I started the Brian James Gang I got both Steve and Dave involved. PB : Who is the other member of the Brian James Gang, the guitarist Austen Dayton ? BJ : Austen played in the Pig. I really liked his style of playing, so we invited him to join the band as well. PB : Carol Clerk has decribed the new album as having "classic values" and "the excitement of "cracking vinyl before CDs came in. Was that something you were aiming for when you were recording it ? BJ : That is down to the studio we use in Brighton. It is a fucking great little studio. It's one of the best live rooms I have ever worked in. If you know how to stick the mics in the right places, which is something you learn over the years, and as long as the band is performing well, it is no work getting that kind of sound. I wanted the Brian James Gang to have a good, tough sound. Someone described it as "dirty fingernail music" (Laughs). That kind of fits it. PB : Was it an album that took you a long time to record ? BJ : Yes. It was because of the availability of the studio. As we haven’t got a lot of money between us, we sneaked in at off times when it didn’t cost us anything to do it, but it was only because of that that it took so long PB : It is your first album of new material in 12 years. Do the songs go back a long way ? BJ : I worked on an album with Wayne Kramer called 'Mad for the Racket' in 2000 and what happened was that I would put riffs on the table and he would put riffs on the table, and we saw what worked for us together and what didn't. Some of ‘The Brian James Gang’ was written at that time and some of it stemmed from when I was living in France, and when I was writing stuff and had no outlet for it.. ‘Catch that Bird', the first song on the album, is basically about being in France. I had to catch that bird, which basically meant that I had to go out and fucking play and make a noise. I had to get it off my chest. I went over to LA and got it off my chest by working with Wayne at that particular point. It is like a modern blues song and I felt that it deserved to be on the album. PB : ‘The Brian James Gang’ also includes an acoustic song 'Eye Witness' which you recorded with Poly Styrene from X Ray Spex. Was that the first time you had worked with Poly ? BJ : Oh, absolutely ! It was the first time I had seen Poly since back in '79 or something like that. It was a long, long time. I had this song and it was written from the perspective of both sides of a relationship. I was going to sing the guy’s part, but I was looking for a girl singer to sing the other part. I had my eye on Astrella Leitch, who is Donovan's daughter. She's got a lovely, very ethereal voice and wanted to do it, but she was moving around a lot at the time and proved impossible to pin down. Then this guy, Michael Biehl, who was around in the punk days, and who lives just down the road from Brighton in Hastings, phoned me up and said "You will never guess who is living here in Hastings. I have just met up with Poly Styrene." I asked him to give Poly my number and she phoned and I told her about the song and she said "I'll do it. Send me a cassette of the song and I will do it." I thought "Great. This makes more sense because we were both in bands from the same period and are like contemporaries of each other. She liked the song and she came down, and she just worked magic with it. She was lovely. PB : Last few questions ! You have always been known as a guitarist rather than a singer. Has it felt strange after all these years of playing guitar of taking centre stage and doing lead vocals with the Brian James Gang ? BJ : It has. To tell the truth if I could off load the job on someone else I would, but I have kind of run out of singers now. I get along with it now though. When the Brian Jones Gang play live, we do a couple of old Damned songs and a couple of old Lords songs to start the set, so I don’t sing all the way through. Austen, the other guitar player, is the punk in the band. He sings the Damned stuff, and Dave sings the Lords stuff and it makes for a pretty good visual show. They do the songs really good justice. I recorded the album with the knowledge that there was no singer up my sleeve to do it live, so I suited the songs to myself when we recorded them with the keys and stuff. It does feel weird singing on stage, but I have done it before, although not very much in this country. I did a French tour to promote my first solo album. It’s not the first time, but it is easier to do when you have another guitar player with you. I do find that sometimes I feel that I should be doing more guitar when I am singing, but I can’t do both things at once. I can’t give the energy to both. People who have seen us play seem to enjoy it. They have a good time and I don’t feel that I am cutting people short. PB : You have had some really good live reviews. BJ : It has all been really encouraging so far. PB : Is it true that you are writing an autobiography as well ? BJ : I have written down some memories and my wife has typed it up about my time in punk and my time in the Damned. It is also, more importantly not just about my time in the Damned, but about the punk scene and how it evolved and how it wasn’t all just Malcolm McLaren’s creation, because if he had his way he would be the creator of it all (Laughs). My wife did a university course a couple of years ago and there were people there who were doing university theses about punk, the music and the fashion and the social behaviour Their sources of reference were so abysmally small and they all seemed to be coming from one angle and the McLaren/Jon Savage camp, and I thought “Fuck, this is wrong ! It is really wrong” because in a few years time people are actually going to believe these things. It is not fair that they are only hearing one side of the argument. It’s wrong. They’ve got to hear all sides. That motivated me to do it, but so far I have only got as far as writing it out in long hand and then my wife typing it up. I haven’t shopped it to any publishers or anything like that. I have done it and I don’t know what to do with it now. I am looking for an animator. I’d like someone to animate it a little bit and to draw some funny pictures for it, like Quentin Blake did with the Roald Dahl books. PB : You have been making music now for over 30 years. You have said recently that you started out because it “is the only thing that you wanted to do in life and still is.” Do you think that is why you have lasted and achieved such longevity ? BJ : I think a lot of it is down to luck actually to tell the truth. Someone up there must like me, but I keep thinking that the bubble is going to pop at some point (Laughs). PB : You have never made the same album twice Has that always been important to you ? BJ : It is very important. It is also important for me to play with different musicians. You get stuck in a rut playing with the same players all the time. I like playing with different players. I really do. PB : What do you think has been your greatest achievement in music ? What do you think is the best thing you have done ? BJ : I guess I would have to go back to the beginning and say ‘New Rose’ and the Damned because if it wasn’t that I wouldn’t probably be sitting her talking to you today. PB : And final question ! What other plans do you have for the future ? Is there going to be a second Brian James Gang CD ? BJ : There will be. Definitely ! The band’s hot. It won’t happen quite yet. I want to get out and tour this one a lot more, but I would like to do another album. You might find it a little bluesier than the first one. Apart from there are a lot of musicians out there that I would love to play with. I want to just keep playing and have fun and to hopefully turn people on PB : Thank you for your time.

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Brian James Gang - Interview Part 3

Brian James Gang - Interview Part 3

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Interview Part 2 (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
Interview Part 1 (2007)

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