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Crazies - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 23 / 12 / 2021

Crazies - Interview


An offshoot of The Sound frontman Adrian Borland's first band The Outsiders, The Crazies' only album 'A Simple Vision' was never meant to come out. Drummer Adrian Janes and clarinet player Bi Marshall explain why forty-three years after it was recorded it is finally being released.

In December 1978 the future Sound frontman and solo artist Adrian Borland was still singing and playing guitar in his first main band, The Outsiders. The Outsiders also featured Graham Bailey, who had replaced Bob Lawrence a few months before, on bass and Adrian Janes on drums. A frequent guest at rehearsals and gigs on metal clarinet was Bailey’s then girlfriend, Bi Marshall. A regular at The Crooked Billet, a pub in Wimbledon in which they all spent a lot of time, their friend Pete Williams, who would eventually go on to front Borland’s obscure side project The Honolulu Mountain Daffodils a decade later, had long held ambitions to make an album. Despite never having been in a studio before, Williams persuaded The Outsiders and Marshall to briefly join forces with him as The Crazies. Their LP ‘A Simple Vision’ was recorded in a day, with Williams providing lyrics and vocals, and the others, who had had no time to rehearse and improvised each of the seven tracks, the music. Over forty years on, ‘A Simple Vision’, works well, its discordant guitars and drums and Marshall’s piercing clarinet shifting through a hypnotic landscape of searing Stooges’ riffs and taut, experimental jazz-like work-outs, while Williams, with his often bizarre and darkly comic lyrics, proves a surprisingly charismatic frontman. ‘A Simple Vision’ was never meant to be released, being consigned to a few cassettes passed from friends to friends, but has just come out on the reissue label Optic Never Recordings on vinyl, with sleeve notes from Janes and artwork from talented artist Marshall. Pennyblackmusic spoke to both Adrian Janes and Bi Marshall about its recording, and why four decades on, it has finally seen release. PB: Bi, you have said that recording The Crazies’ album was the happiest time you ever had in a studio. Why do you say that? Adrian, do you feel the same way? ADRIAN JANES: Yes, looking back I think it was. I’d say it’s because we weren’t recording songs we’d played for a long time, knowing how they were supposed to go. As we were improvising at speed, you couldn’t really be worried about making mistakes and having to redo a track. There wasn’t the pressure to get things ‘right’, so we were able to play with a lot of freedom. BI MARSHALL: The recording session in the studio was really fun, and bizarrely, given we had not prepared any music beforehand, stress free. I suppose, being primarily Pete's project, the pressure was off Adrian (Borland), which always had a huge impact. Pete just wanted to record his lyrics with our music, with the view of producing a few cassettes. The whole thing was approached as a group of old friends having a fun day in the studio, and that's exactly how it turned out. PB: How do you feel now ‘A Simple Vision’ is out? Is it with a sense of sadness that it has taken 43 years to see the light of day, and that both Pete and Adrian Borland, who both sound so alive on this, died young, or are you just elated to see it finally out? BM: As the owner of a cassette copy, 'A Simple Vision' has always been there in my collection, so it is difficult to answer your question. It certainly feels strange to be talking about it as a new 'product', given it was recorded 43 years ago!! AJ: I’m really pleased that it has finally been released. There are so many examples now of even older archival material being released that in a way 43 years doesn’t seem that long. Of course I wish Adrian and Pete were around to see it, especially as they were the prime movers of the whole thing, but any sadness I feel is dwarfed by the pleasure at now being able to hear them on these songs whenever. I think that appreciating the legacy of musicians and singers is always what they themselves would want, regardless of how long they lived or how long it takes. But it’s preferable to be around to see it happen. PB: How did ‘A Simple Vision’ finally see release, and how did Optic Nerve Recordings become involved? AJ: After Bob Borland, Adrian’s Dad, died a few years ago the house had to be cleared. I asked his nieces, the executors, if I could have any Outsiders-related recordings. The Crazies were basically The Outsiders of late 1978 fronted by Pete Williams, so among other things I received the master tape of ‘A Simple Vision’. I already had in mind to approach Cherry Red to release a live recording of The Outsiders which was also amongst the material I had received, because they had previously successfully released The Outsiders’ official albums on CD in 2012. At their suggestion, this idea expanded into the ‘Count for Something’ box set that was released earlier this year. Given their interest, it seemed logical to let them know at the same time about The Crazies and see how they reacted. They were more cautious about this idea because, from their standpoint, The Crazies had no reputation at all whereas The Outsiders at least had some previous releases. They proposed that they could offer the album to some labels they had connections with, and Ian Allcock of Optic Nerve turned out to be quite keen to take it on. This way. they weren’t taking such a commercial risk but, as they’ve retained the digital rights, they may still make something from it. To be honest I don’t know what I would have done if Cherry Red had rejected any involvement with ‘A Simple Vision’. It’s not like I’m a seasoned negotiator with record companies! PB: The album was recorded very spontaneously with no rehearsals. You improvised each song with one run-through, and then recorded it. Was this a way in which The Outsiders worked regularly anyway? How much guidance did Pete and Adrian provide you with for what each song should sound like? AJ: No, even when we were first working on a song, I think with The Outsiders Adrian usually had a shape and a structure he was aiming at which we then jointly fleshed out. Of course everyone was free to make suggestions as we went along, but the big difference with The Crazies is that we basically went in the studio without any preconceptions, although I guess Adrian may have had some riffs and other ideas in mind. BM: Yes, we did work very spontaneously, that was always the way we approached a new song. With The Outsiders, certainly in the later days when I was involved, and with The Sound, our contributions would then evolve, be polished and filtered with every subsequent run through, until it was approved by all members of the band. It was a very democratic process in those early days. With The Crazies it just felt like the normal process, only without the subsequent steps. We had seen Pete's lyrics and were given an idea of the kind of pacing that was envisaged, and the 'jamming' started. Evolution was reduced to the length of one run through and then we recorded what we had. We were conscious that we only had one day in the studio in which to record all of Pete's songs. AJ: I don’t really recall any guidance whatsoever. Even I find this hard to believe looking back, especially when comparing it to other sessions, but I really do recall it as us just responding to one another on the run-through, and then doing much the same on the actual take. It sounds kind of crazy (sorry), but that’s how it seemed from where I was sitting. PB: Pete Williams was someone you all knew from the local pub The Crooked Billet. He had never been in a recording studio before, but had had the idea of booking the studio for himself and getting The Outsiders in as his backing band. What kind of person was he? What do you remember about him? BM: Pete Williams was a very funny individual, I loved him a lot. When we first met he introduced himself to me as 'Peter del Fuego' and proceeded to make me laugh all evening. Anytime he saw me look a bit down he would reduce me to fits of laughter with his impressions of Katherine Hepburn in 'The African Queen', he mimicked her clipped voice, perfectly. He was a huge music fan, but despite his outwardly 'big' personality, was actually very shy. I think that probably explains the creation of 'The Crazies', an anonymous one off project only to be circulated on cassette by Pete to his friends, that would allow Pete to experience recording in a studio, with no outside pressures. AJ: Pete was a terrific character, funny, smart, a keen reader, and above all a music fanatic. I think it was this last characteristic that really drew together our group at the Billet, which in Pete’s case ultimately gave him the idea of writing and recording some songs despite his lack of experience. He certainly didn’t show any nerves in the studio – you can hear in the performances that he was totally committed. PB: His lyrics are offbeat and surreal and reveal a macabre sense of humour. ‘Scorchtorch’ is about someone setting fire to themselves, ‘Fllipper’ is about someone losing their hand in a farming device, and ‘Bodybag’ about a soldier getting killed in Vietnam and coming home in a bodybag. Is it true that all the lyrics were inspired by newspaper stories of the time? What about ‘When We’re Dead’, which he wrote the lyrics for while you all went off for lunch? AJ: I have been told this by Bi, but I think ‘Body Bag’ at least took some inspiration from a book he’d read called ‘Dispatches’ by Michael Herr, which I remember him recommending to me. As for ‘When We’re Dead’, I believe that was written entirely spontaneously in the studio, so read into that what you will. Naturally when you’re young (we were all in our early twenties) you find death both hard to imagine and at the same time the worst thing imaginable. As much as anything, I think the death and horror in the songs weren’t really due to anything morbid but came out of Pete and Adrian being big film fans, as shown by the name of the band. BM: When Pete showed us the lyrics for the songs, a few days prior to the session, I was amazed, as they were so weird. I asked him where he'd got the ideas from and he said from the newspapers. He'd collected a week's worth of papers and then sat down to write the lyrics based on the most striking stories. I know ‘Scorchtorch’ was based on the Australian heiress Lynette Phillips, who set herself alight in protest in October 1978. ‘Flipper’ was about the latest advances in microsurgery, allowing reattachment of severed limbs. I can't remember exactly what he told me the inspiration was for all the songs, but certainly the fear of nuclear war, fallout from radioactivity etc were important stories of the late '70's. We recorded everything and made such good progress that we actually ended up with studio time to spare. The band decided to have a break and Pete thought he could write one more song during our breaktime. I have no idea what inspired the lyrics to 'When We're Dead' but they are typically Pete. PB: ‘A Simple Vision’ was engineered by the young Nick Robbins. What do you think he brought to the recording? AJ: It’s only now that I’m aware this was one of the very first sessions Nick ever engineered! You go in as the band thinking that he is, not an authority figure, but someone who is at least experienced. Nick proved quite a laid-back, amiable guy, so whatever we asked he basically tried to fulfil, but of course he also had the technical knowledge to make it sound as good as possible. One of the reasons I’m so pleased that the album has been released is that I feel it captures the most powerful sound The Outsiders ever got in a studio. BM: The recording was made at Elephant Studio and was the first time we met and worked with Nick Robbins, Nick went on to work with The Sound, Second Layer and Adrian Borland many times subsequently. I can't remember him being very relaxed to begin with, when it was explained to him what we were going to do. It was clearly not what he expected, but he got dragged along by the general sense of enthusiasm and fun, and turned into a great ally and friend. The great thing about working with Nick is he gets it very quickly. He understands what the band are hoping to achieve without lengthy explanations and discussions. He always delivers. It was a no brainer to get Nick to re-master 'The Crazies'. What he did cleans up the recording, without losing any of the original spontaneity and energy. PB: The band took their name from one of the lesser-known films by George A Romero. Why did you decide to name yourselves after that and was this cult viewing for you all? AJ: Like I said, Adrian and Pete loved films, so I think it was their notion. In any case, one of the offshoots of the Billet gatherings was to go into London and see cult films like that. I remember us going to see Romero’s first zombie film, ‘Night of the Living Dead’, and another time ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’ in 3D, wearing the obligatory silly coloured glasses. BM: I can't remember who decided to call the band 'The Crazies' but it's a good fit, and given we were all lovers of Romero, most apt. PB: Bi, the cover art is fantastic, the sort of art which is designed for vinyl and packed with detail. Why did you choose to use on the back sleeve graphic models of the band members all with naked torsos and wearing masks rather than photos? BM: I really enjoyed working on the covers for 'A Simple Vision'. I guess knowing of some of the inspiration behind Pete's lyrics, meant I was in a unique position. I was conscious of the fact that it also had to be, in some part, a tribute to our 2 lost friends, and capture something unique about both of them. Graham wanted some of Adrian's original artwork for the cassette incorporated into the design, which kind of dictated 'collage' as the best technique, that also helped it to look like it originates from the same time as the recording. I wanted Pete's humour to show through, as well as the surreal subject of his lyrics. I hope I managed it, and that Pete and Adrian would both like the cover, as well as feel properly represented on it. The Crazies were always meant to be anonymous, and part of me wishes it could have remained so. Unfortunately when a company invests in a release, they need to be able to adequately market it, being able to list the participants was important to Optic Nerve.. Ian Allcock at Optic Nerve was very good to work with over the design. Since no photos of us could be found from 1978/1979, but somehow we had to be named and depicted on the back of the album sleeve, he agreed that rather than putting up some contemporary ones of Graham, Jan, Nick and myself, I could represent the band 'artistically', which is why we are mannequin torsos and mask heads, which is in addition a nod to maintaining our original desire for anonymity. I should add that there was input from everyone on the cover design. I put forward three designs for consideration and the options were discussed. PB: Pete and Adrian Borland went on to record another three albums together as the Honolulu Mountain Daffodils. Do you see them as the natural continuation of The Crazies? AJ: I feel those albums both were a continuation and yet weren’t. They were, in the sense of freedom and humour that you get from them. On the other hand, the Honolulus were a decade further on from The Crazies. In that time Adrian had been through the whole life cycle of The Sound and ended up having a breakdown. I’m theorising here, but I think the Honolulus were a chance for him to relax and at the same time maintain some sort of musical activity. Another big difference, which they made full use of, was the then-new development of sampling. But I suppose you could say that did retain the spirit of The Crazies, where we’d try anything we felt like to see how it sounded, and were only trying to please ourselves. BM: I don't know the working methods of The Honolulu Mountain Daffodils but certainly the end result has a lot in common with The Crazies. I do see The Honolulu Mountain Daffodils as the natural continuation of The Crazies. PB: Thank you.

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