published: 10 /
Eclectic and enigmatic, the UK's Monochrome Set have been the focus of many legends and myths. Tommy Gunnarsson speaks to its ironic and teasing frontman Bid about the group's twenty year history
'Eine Symphonie Des Grauens', 'Love Goes Down The Drain', 'Goodbye Joe', 'The Lighter Side Of Dating', 'The Jet Set Junta'… All fantastic songs by a fantastic band, the Monochrome Set. When you read about them in pop encyclopaedias or on the internet, there are always a lot of legends and myths surrounding this English group of musicians who changed members a lot during their twenty years together. One of these myths is whether singer/guitarist Bid really is an Indian king or not, and so to find out the truth, Pennyblackmusic grabbed a hold of this mysterious man and asked him some questions about his past in the Monochrome Set and also his later project, Scarlet’s Well. The only thing was that on the day we spoke to him he was in a very ironic mood, so his answers aren’t always very serious. Anyway, here is a word-for-word summary of this conversation.
PB : When did you first become interested in music? What kind of music did you grow up with ?
B : I didn't listen to music at all until I was the age of about 10- I mean nothing. I didn't become seriously interested until I was about 13 or 14.
PB : Were you born in India? Are the rumours about you being a royal true ?
B : I was born in Calcutta, India. My father is Indian, my mother American. I was an Indian national until the age of, er, 10 , when I became British. I come from a family with a line of about 30 to 40 assorted kings, but we haven't had any real kings there for a long time.
PB : When did you join your first band ?
B : I was in various school bands from the age of about 14.
PB : Where did you get your name Bid from...?
B : I can't answer that.
PB : Or is it your real name ?
B : My real name is Ganesh Seshadri- literally translated, it means "Elephant-Headed Boy God, Rider Of The Cosmic Cobra".
PB : How did the Monochrome Set form?
B : If you don't know the history, you can read a précis on the Monochrome Set website http://www.bid.clara.net/mset/. Most bands form "organically"- over a period of time, until coming to a line-up and name that seems to work well.
PB : Where did you get the name Monochrome Set from?
B : I can't really remember. Black & white op art from the 60s, maybe.
PB : How did you come to end up releasing your first singles on Rough Trade ?
B : Geoff Travis came up to us after one gig and said "How about it, lads?". We beat him up a little, but then realised he was offering us a record deal, so we signed to Rough Trade.
PB : Did you ever think about starting your own label?
B : Yes, Blanco Y Negro was our idea back in 1980, but we couldn't do it at the time. We then used the logo as the cover for 'Apocalypso'. Mike Alway later used the name for his deal with Warners.
PB : What were the first influences on the Monochrome Set? How did they change over the years?
B : That's really a very long list, and it changes all the time!
PB : How do you write your songs? Is it the music first,and then the lyrics or vice versa ?
B : It's usually the music, though the songs appear to be very "lyric-driven".
PB : What influences your lyrics?
B : I don't know- just whatever happens to pop into my head.
PB : What is the single greatest moment in your musical career?
B : There's no single moment.
PB : Did you see the Monochrome Set as a "singles band" or an "album band"?
B : Album- we didn't care about singles.
PB : Would you like the Monochrome Set (and Scarlet's Well) to be more famous than they are? Would you like to tour the world and play at giant arenas?
B : I would have liked to have more money, drugs and girls, but be less famous. We did tour the world (good) and occasionally played big arenas (not good).
PB : You did a solo album too. Tell me a bit about that. How did that come about?
B : No, I just did one solo single- 'Reach For Your Gun'. This was written when I was in the Monochrome Set. The Scarlet's Well albums are sort-of-solo.
PB : How would you describe the Monochrome Set to someone who has never heard them?
B : I don't think I could. I've never heard us being properly described in all these years.
PB : Why did the Monochrome Set split up?
B : We got bored.
PB : The Monochrome Set had a big following in the Far East. How did that happen ?
B :We always did- in 1980 half the sales of 'Strange Boutique' were to Japan. I don't know why.
PB : Are there any chances of a reunion? I read somewhere that you reunited already in 1989. Why did that happen so fast?
B : Well, we split in 1985, and got back together again in 1990 because we were offered a good deal by a Japanese company, and asked to tour over there. We wanted to do this, as we had not gone there between 1978 and 1985. We did 5 more albums between 1990 and 1996. The chances of a reunion now are slim, but I don't know.
PB : Looking back, what do you think of those early Monochrome Set singles now?
B : Quite good.
PB : And also the later recordings?
B : Not bad.
PB : What was the music scene like in the UK for a band like Monochrome Set when they started out in the late 70's? Was it easier to get gigs than it is now?
B : The music scene was healthy, though it was towards the end of the
"mini-renaissance". Now? It's been crap for 10 years.
PB : How did Scarlet's Well form?
B : I wanted to make albums where I wasn't the main singer.
PB : Where did you get the name from?
B: I imagined a small village in the South-West of England, and I also wanted a name that nobody had used. It was only recently that I discovered that there is an ancient well in Cornwall called Scarlet's Well.
PB : How would you describe Scarlet's Well to someone who have never heard them?
B : It's kind of a cross between Viv Stanshall and Blondie.
PB : You have used a number of singers on your Scarlet's Well albums. Why is that?
B : It sounds better!
PB : Are there any big differences between your songwriting in Monochrome Set and Scarlet's Well?
B : Yes, there's less band politics when you're on your own. Apart from that, the latter is more acoustic.
PB : What influences your songwriting today ?
B : Old tales of the sea, featuring wooden legs stuffed with limes.
PB : If you could choose one song that you wish you had written, which one would it be?
B : The French national anthem.
PB : Can you make a living out of music or do you have regular daytime job?
B : A living ? No. I grow mooli.
PB : What do you listen to nowadays?
B : 1000 AD - 1983 AD
PB : Are there any new bands that you like a lot?
B : No
PB : Thank you.