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Terry Edwards - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 24 / 12 / 2020

Terry Edwards - Interview


Multi-instrumentalist solo artist and successful session player Terry Edwards speaks to John Clarkson about his two new compilations, 60th birthday box set, 'Very Terry Edwards', and covers album, 'Stop Trying to Sell Me Back My Past (vol.1)', as well as his lengthy career.

Terry Edwards is one of Britain’s most successful multi-instrumentalists and session players, and plays the saxophone, the trumpet, the piano and the guitar. His first band was quirky punk-funk outfit The Higsons, which he joined in 1980 while studying Music at the University of East Anglia, and whom released a series of singles as well as in 1984 an album, ‘The Curse of the Higsons’. He has since been a member of brooding alternative rock band Gallon Drunk and more recently the jazz-influenced supergroups Terry Edwards & the Scapegoats and Near Jazz Experience, Edwards, who also has a solo career, has worked as a session player for countless artists including Madness, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, Tindersticks, Spiritualized, Tom Waits. The Jesus and Mary Chain, Lydia Lunch, Franz Ferdinand, Siouxsie and Robyn Hitchcock. He has recently released on his own Sartorial Records two compilations, ‘Very Terry Edwards’, a sixty track, three CD, 60th birthday album which compiles together some of his best recordings, and ‘Stop Trying To Sell Me Back My Past (vol.1)', which brings together a series of cover EPs of acts such as The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Fall, The Cure and Miles Davis that he recorded in the 1990s. Pennyblackmusic spoke to him about both compilations and his lengthy career. PB: When did you first become interested in music? TE: There was always a piano in the house because my mum played piano. She was an infant school teacher. I broke my leg when I was five, and I couldn’t do anything energetic as I was stuck at home with my leg in a cast, and the piano became of interest to me and I started playing then. I could apparently sing in tune very early on as well and from when I was quite young, but I couldn’t really give you a ‘Road to Damascus’ moment. PB: Your first main act was The Higsons. What do you think the most important lessons were that you learnt from them? TE: I have learnt with hindsight not to beat myself up about not becoming a pop star which is what I really wanted to do with them. I would have very happily left university as soon as we started getting some airplay and chucked in the music degree that I was doing, but in retrospect that would have been a dreadful thing to do. I was nineteen when we first started. I was twenty when our first record came out, and I was twenty-five when we split up. All the things that could have been didn’t happen. We were reasonably successful on an indie scale but we didn’t crack the charts. Maybe we shouldn’t have tried to crack the charts. Perhaps we weren’t that type of band. I grew up in public really with them and I did a lot of gigs. We managed to fight our way through that post-punk period of music. PB: The Higsons put out two singles, ‘Tear the Whole Thing Down’ and ‘Run Me Down’, on 2 Tone in 1982 and 1983, which was at that time a very influential label. What are your memories of that experience of being on 2 Tone? TE: I have very fond memories of that, and I have played with Jerry Dammers and stayed in touch with him ever since because I play in the Spatial AKA Orchestra, that big type of Sun Ra Arkestra band that he has. We haven’t actually played in a few years, but it is always an amazing thing playing with Jerry. I got to know a little bit about how being on a label works, because, although 2 Tone was a small label, it did have major distribution at the time through Chrysalis, and you felt you were part of something that was a bit bigger than being the big fish in the small pool of Norwich where we were all studying at the University of East Anglia. I think a bit more longevity there would have done us well. We should have tried to get an album out on 2 Tone as well, instead of just the two singles. PB: Charlie Higson, The Higsons’ frontman, has gone on to a successful career as a comedian and a writer. Did he seem destined to go down that route from a young age? TE: Certainly as a writer. That is for sure. He also created all but one of our records sleeves, so he is quite artistic as well. We used to write collectively in The Higsons. We didn’t have a single songwriter in the band. We would all get together and write as one, but as the singer and the lyricist he would be listening to us playing through various bits and pieces, and he would start structuring it and saying, “This needs a chorus” and “This needs that,” and, while we would maybe disagree, it really helped to kick everything into shape. I could see him as an editor and I know that he did quite a bit of that with Paul Whitehouse on ‘The Fast Show’. With Paul, you could sit and have a chat with him and he would just be going off all over the place and be absolutely hilarious. Charlie would be the person that would be pulling in the funniest bits and putting them in the right order. He was the script editor with Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer as well on ‘Shooting Stars’. He is definitely more of a writer than a performer. That is where he has found his niche. PB: Why did The Higsons break up? TE: We kind of ran out of gas in 1986. Our star was definitely not on the ascendancy and had not been for a year or two. Funnily enough our highest chart position was with a cover of ‘Music To Watch Girls Go By’, but our other singles didn’t get that kind of recognition. We had exhausted every avenue and we were old news by the time that we split up, and nobody was interested in putting out our records anymore. We did work a lot. We were on the road a lot of the time, but I think that we just ran out of steam. PB: Your next main band Gallon Drunk was very different to The Higsons, and was much more brooding and dark. You joined them initially as a session player and then as a permanent member when they were making their second album, ‘From the Heart of the Town’. Was their main appeal to you that they were so different? TE: James Johnstone and Mike Delanian from Gallon Drunk always wanted a saxophone sound in the band, and I seemed to fit in with everyone and I enjoyed the music. It was a departure of some sorts, but before that I had met Mark Bedford from Madness and we had been in a band called Butterfield 8 together. I had also been in a band called Yeah Jazz who were from the Midlands, so I had done a couple of things already that were a little different from The Higsons’ stuff. When you become a session player, you also take on whatever is thrown at you, but I enjoyed very much what was thrown at me by Gallon Drunk. PB: What are you looking for when you join a band or do session work? What are you hoping to gain from them? TE: Obviously it is comfortable to be on new ground but it is also extremely exhilarating to be thrown down a lift shaft. If you can combine both of those, then that is ideal. I have a huge enthusiasm for music still. I just enjoy it so much. There was an interesting interview that I read with the photographer David Bailey recently, and the interviewer said, “So, you still go out every day with your cameras. Why do you do that?” And he said, “Well, I might see something.” And you might think that David Bailey has probably pretty much seen everything, but he hasn’t seen everything, and I guess in a similar way that is what it is like for me when I play something that I am familiar with but which also makes me feel uncomfortable at the same time. I learn something else about my instruments that I didn’t know before. I do have a hell of a lot still to learn. PB: To turn it around, what do you think bands who are looking for session players want from you and why do they choose you? TE: I think that bands might want, for example, that bit of saxophone playing which is really similar to that bit of saxophone playing they have heard in Gallon Drunk or that bit of trumpet playing which is similar to a Tindersticks song. They want to have something that they have heard before. I have recently been looking over all the string arrangements that I used to do in the '90s. After I worked on ‘The Tindersticks Second Album’ in 1995, I got the phone call quite a lot to come and arrange strings. There was a band called the Frank and Walters that I worked with, and that was particularly because they had heard my work on that. Occasionally you do get the ghoulish *we want to have someone who has played with Nick Cave request”, which is a disappointment. That is not really the reason why you should be called because you have got a good phone book. PB: ‘Very Terry Edwards’ is not arranged chronologically but by genres. It opens with your first recordings with The Higsons, and then next up are your most recent recordings with Paul Cuddeford which you did just before lockdown. Why did you decide to arrange things that way? TE: I was thinking about what might sound good in the same way that people who put together radio shows are always thinking about what sounds right next to something else. Until they started doing those ‘Don’t Look Back’ shows, where they played an album in its entirety in track order, bands very rarely did that live because what actually sounds good on the record doesn’t necessarily sound good in an auditorium. There are sixty tracks there. People could always put their CD on random, but it was a bit of a birthday present to myself. It was more a personal choice. Chronologically didn’t work for me because I felt that there was a danger that you get stuck with lots of very early scratchy recordings at the beginning. I think when you are doing these things you just have to choose the way you want to do things and then just go ahead and let it sink or swim. PB: What was your criteria for choosing the tracks which you did because like lots of compilations there is a lot which you could have included but didn’t. Did you just go for personal favourites? TE: I went for personal favourites generally. I also didn’t want to wait for months for major record labels who didn’t know who the hell I was to agree to it. There are some things that it would been too difficult contractually to get on there, so that was also a governing factor, but when I did ask people they were very responsive. I thought, for example, “Oh, come on! I know Franz Ferdinand well enough. I will just ask them if I can licence a track,” and they were absolutely fine about it. PB: The front cover has a photo of you on a camel in a suit. Where was that taken? TE: It was in Cairo by the Pyramids. I had gone out there to play a gig for the British Council. We were there for less than 48 hours, but had the chance to go off and be tourists and see the pyramids and get on a camel. This was in November two years ago, and I checked that it was going to be warm but if you wore a lightweight suit you could get away with it. It was hilarious me wearing a suit by the pyramids. PB: You have also just released a covers album, ‘Stop Trying To Sell Me Back My Past (vol.1)'!, which includes covers of bands like the Cure, Miles Davis and the Jesus and Mary Chain that you recorded for a selection of EPs in the ‘90s. What was the appeal to you of covering these bands? TE: The first one that I did was an EP of Mary Chain covers, and that was the first record that came out under my own name. I love the Mary Chain but thought, “What would happen if you took away the intrinsic things from the Mary Chain’s songs,” so I took out the vocals and the guitars, and what is left is are the melodies which are so strong you can kind of see the words in your head. I kept the integrity of the tunes. I didn’t put a red nose on them. They are done with utmost respect. The tempo and the drum patterns are the same, and they are in the same key, but instead of having feedbacking guitars they have very high saxophone squalls instead. I was just trying to recreate them just using different instruments. I am playing rock music using jazz instruments. I did the Fall after that. The idea for Miles Davis was in my head, but he died at about the time I was going to do it and I thought that it might look a bit ghoulish and ambulance-chasing to put out four tracks of what some jazz fans might feel might be difficult versions of Miles Davis at that time, so I just bumped the Fall ones up the chain. The Fall ones came about because they were doing a lot of cover versions like ‘Victoria’ and ‘There’s a Ghost in My House’, and making themselves pop stars in a sense (Laughs) and getting themselves in the Top 30 with those covers. So, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun if somebody made really commercial versions of the Fall songs and did the same thing?” I just liked the idea of making jaunty,stylised versions of Mark E Smith tunes. PB: Most of the tracks by The Cure have never been released before, have they? TE: No, that was the fourth in the series of four track EPs. At the time The Cure owned their own publishing. When you register songs, you usually want people to cover them, so that you can earn money that way, but some bands prefer to keep their own copyright, so they can vet what versions go out. It has been shrouded in mystery but I was told that it would be fine. I could do it, so I got right the way down the line, even down to making a video for ‘Friday, I’m in Love’ and getting as far as making white labels and test pressings, before being called and told I wasn’t being issued with a licence. I don’t know if it was the publishing company or the band, but I met Robert Smith later at his Meltdown Festival. Before that, however, I had managed to get a copy of a 7” I had done since then of ‘In Between Days’ to him. After I had heard a Cure song on the telly I thought, “They don’t own their copyright anymore,” so I knew that I could legitimately put out a copy out, And he said, “Oh, we meet at last. I have your record on my jukebox in my snooker room at home” (Laughs). _ PB: What did the Mary Chain and Mark E. Smith make of them? TE: The Mary Chain really liked them actually and they bought a box of 12”s to give to their mates. I did get to play with them on ‘Munki’ after that. I played trumpet on two tracks, ‘I Love Rock ‘n Roll’, and ‘The Man on the Moon’, so they approved. I met Mark E Smith afterwards as well. He liked it all except for ‘Container Drivers’, which was because I hadn’t kept any of his lyrics on it (Laughs). PB: How badly have you been affected by lockdown and Covid? TE: Well, i am doing pretty well, not financially but in terms of my mental health. It is very much like being off the road for a couple of weeks except a couple of weeks is now over six months. I am very used to working under my own steam and with my own deadlines and practising during the day. Working from home is what I do when I am not touring. It is touring that I miss. I won’t know the full damage for at least another year or so as some of the bigger shows take a lot of planning. I did a big thing, for example, at the Barbican on the music of Michael Caine films called ‘Blow the Bloody Doors Off’ in 2014, and shows like that need at least a year to be put in place. At the moment nobody in those sized venues knows when they are going to be able to stage something like that again, and there is going to be a whole log jam of big events that will be needed to be sorted out, so I think the pinch will be felt in a year or two’s time. PB: What are your plans for 2021? TE: We are halfway through a Near Jazz Experience album. We have been able to do some recording for that, and I think we will get some kind of mini-album for Record Store Day 2021 and an album for later in the year. PB: Thank you.

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Terry Edwards - Interview

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