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Secret Affair guitarist and founder member David Cairns chats to Dave Goodwin about the band’s early days, the late 1970s Mod movement and their upcoming fortieth anniversary which sees the group tour the UK.
When I was growing up in the suburbs of Nottingham I, as with most youths of the time, couldn’t make my mind up which way I wanted to go musically. I knew I liked girls at an early age but music? I was into Futurist stuff, Ska, New Wave and all sorts in a short space of time. One of the bands that helped me define my musical taste as well as my dad’s record box was a band called Secret Affair.
Having been faced with the most important decision whilst in Arcade Records in Nottingham of which of their first two albums to buy I decided on the second ‘Behind Closed Doors’ (1980), and it became over the years my favourite album ever. Who would have thought that forty years later I would be speaking to one of the members of that group to help promote the 40th Anniversary celebration of their 1979 first album, ‘Glory Boys’?
That member would be David Cairns, writer of the band’s biggest hits and known for his intense guitar style. Born in 1958 in Walthamstow, London, the son of an Epping Forest GP, he was first inspired to take up the guitar after an encounter at a local nightclub with BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel and a little later by a live performance by The Who at Charlton Athletics’ football ground in 1976. While at sixth form he met up with singer Ian Page and formed the power pop/punk band New Hearts. The band signed to CBS Records in 1977, releasing two singles and touring with The Jam.
After the New Hearts split, Cairns continued to work with Page, forming Secret Affair. In a little over two years the band posted five releases in the UK Singles Chart and released three albums. Their debut single ‘Time For Action’ sold 198,000 copies in 1979, reaching number 13 and was followed with ‘Let Your Heart Dance’, ‘My World’ and ‘Sound Of Confusion’. More recently, after a thirty year absence Secret Affair released their fourth studio album, ‘Soho Dreams’ on their iconic I-SPY Records label in 2012 and have continued to tour ever since. The four-album ‘Est. 1979: 35th Anniversary Box Set’ was released in January 2015 by Sony/BMG.
Secret Affair will be celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2019 with a fourteen date UK spring tour. Totally awestruck at being able to speak to a hero I mumbled my way through a short interview…
Pennyblack: This is an absolute treat for me this, Dave, because you boys in a way shaped my musical beginnings.
David Cairns: Oh, good.
PB: Luckily the advent of your first two brilliant albums, especially ‘Behind Closed Doors,’ eventually put me on the straight and narrow in a way.
DC: Thank Christ for that Dave! It could have ruined you!
PB: I know! With the occasion being the 40th anniversary of the first album I take it you are back on the road with it?
DC: So, it’s a 40th anniversary tour, yes, and we’ve actually released four albums. The last was ‘Soho Days’ in 2012 which went very well for us in the way that it was self-funded and we actually made a profit, which pays for rehearsals and such. In this day and age the record industry has gone. It’s disappeared!
So, what we are doing is playing a selection, actually most of the ‘Glory Boys’ album which we always do anyway live. We are not playing all of it because we’ve done that already a couple of years ago. We’ve only got ninety minutes so we are limited to what we can put in in ninety minutes. We’ve got music from the three other albums to squeeze in, so we sit there thinking what can we or what don’t we want to play. Did you come across ‘Soho Dreams’, Dave?
PB: We reviewed it in Pennyblack.
DC: Oh did you? Fantastic, that’s great. And what did you think?
PB: Brilliant. I really enjoyed it.
DC: What we did was do a selected list of the four albums. Now, I know that releasing four albums in forty years isn’t exactly brilliant output compared to other people but there was a huge gap after we split up of around fifteen to twenty years. We had put three albums out and then a huge gap and so putting the fourth one out was just wonderful for us. We made a little profit to help move the band forward. Next year is all about forty years of… well, still being there. In some respects it’s funny we've outlived so many things like the ‘NME’ for example. One minute we are on the front cover which is fantastic for us and then you’ve got these rogue writers putting us down and slagging us off because they all turned against the Mod revival. Then they went bust and we are still going.
PB: Just before we go back to the ‘Glory Boys’ era you just mentioned splitting up. What was it that got you back together again?
DC: There were a lot of retro specialists at the time putting together compilations such ‘The Best of The Jam’ and ‘The Best of Genesis’. You know the sort of thing? And Cherry Red came to us and we worked on ‘Time For Action: The Anthology’ with them. Ian (Page- vocalist) and I connected together whern we did a few reunion shows with the original line-up at that tie, but the other guys weren’t really up for it.
The only people that wanted to carry it on were Ian and I. To cut a long story short we could have done it and gone away again. At the time though we got offered to play the Isle of Wight Scooter Rally in 2009, then we were asked to play the ice rink. The capacity of that place was I think 2,500, So we got a band together and rehearsed it and went down there to play it and we were in the changing rooms and this guy walks in and tells us that we are the first band ever to sell out that venue!
He said we had sold out over 2,500 and I went “Shit! Really?” We were in the bowels of the building and we went out there and there they were. So, after that time we kept getting invites saying, “Are you back together again and would you like to play these gigs?” We sat there and thought, “Do you know what? What the hell!” Most of my mates now they play golf at the weekend and what I’ve ended up doing is playing guitar and enjoying it. It does mean we’ve got a tour manager, a sound engineer, everything’s in flight cases and stored and tour buses and suddenly you’ve got it covered. I love the organization.
We are playing a big, old venue in Chesterfield on Saturday night. We are doing it as a sort of double header and the DJs are two guys from the ‘Quadrophenia’ movie which of course has its the fortieth anniversary next year too. The funny thing is that it’s the fortieth anniversary of that next October and (back then) people pointed the finger at us as a band saying that we were jumping on the bandwagon of the ‘Quadrophenia’ movie. This isn’t true you see, because of in January that year Ian and I had already set up the band and recorded the ‘Glory Boys’ album at CBS and we were already supporting bands like The Cure and The Pretenders. We did one gig with The Jam and they never invited us back!
By the time ‘Quadrophenia’ had come out, don’t forget there was no internet, you had a rumour in a column in a newspaper: ‘Pete Townshend’s Quadrophenia’. We didn’t know about it! By the time it came out Secret Affair were selling out the Marquee Club in London. So, we didn’t need ‘Quadrophenia’ to come out, so the idea that we jumped on the bandwagon is a lie. So that annoys me. We were cracking away in Secret Affair six months before that film bloody came out! I wasn’t even bothered about seeing it.
PB: Dave, if you can, give me an idea of what it was like to be Dave Cairns at the time ‘Glory Boys’ and ‘Behind Closed Doors’ came out. What was it like in the clubs?
DC: It was fantastic. It was post-Punk, post New Wave. I have to say it that the national press and the music press think they start sub-cultures like Mod and such but they don’t. They just find out about it. It was all going on and they didn’t know about it and they diss it. There was always this Mod culture, this underground scene. You see from 1968 onwards it never went away. What went away were the ‘Sun’ front covers and the ‘News of the World’. So, one minute they’re saying that Mods were fighting Rockers in Brighton and in Clacton and then it goes away, but the people behind it with the scooters and the parkas never went away. When we popped up somebody decided, “Well, it's got to be a revival! Shall we call it a renewal?” It started out as a Mod renewal, and then somebody said, ‘No, no, no, it’s a revival!” The fact of the matter is that it wasn’t a Mod revival at all. It was just peaks and troughs of Mod culture that never went away The problem was that we got sucked into it and it kind of dragged us down in the end.
PB: Why do you say that?
DC: Because a lot of the Mods went away from being Mods for a bit. They moved on to being New Romantics etc and we ended up spending too much time in America that time. And here it was all New Romantics, you know?
PB: I get you, but if you were a Mod as a youth you still have little bits inside that come out now and again and remind you? Your music inspired me to go on and collect and then DJ Northern Soul stuff and I’m into it to this day. I still bring out ‘Who’s Who’ and my old original ‘Mods Mayday’ (much admired 1979 live album of that era’s leading Mod bands – Ed)
DC: Well, we did the 2018 August Bank Holiday Mods Mayday gig down in Brighton, which was a traditional Mods get together and I tell you what. I’ve never seen it so rammed two years running. If you want to see a classic scooter go down to Brighton. Go down to the next one. You will see the most amazing scooters and the sharpest suits worn by the sharpest ladies and gents on the planet. We sold it out and our friends The Truth were special guests and it’s amazing how the Mods come. They never went away. Dave. They are now taking over Brighton again ,but it's not newsworthy. If it was it would be a Mod revival, it would be a Mods’ Millennial! The media is pathetic.
PB: Just going back to my ‘Mods Mayday’ record what was the relationship like with bands like Squire and Beggar who appeared on it? I know you had a lot to do with that album because you were on it as well.
DC: Well, Squire went on to get signed up on our record label I-Spy. Their single ‘Walking Down the Kings Road’ narrowly missed ‘Top of the Pops’ by a small amount of sales. We as a label wanted them to get there and they went so close.
PB: Secret Affair did it though?
DC: We did eight ‘Top of the Pops’ appearances. ‘The Glory Boys’ album was debuted on the ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’. I used to watch Free and David Bowie on there and whoever is behind you ,mate, doesn’t mean you are going to get there. I was thrilled ten times more than I ever had been going on ‘Top of the Pops’.
PB: Just before we go, Dave, on ‘Glory Boys’, what was your favourite track and why? I’ll help you out by saying mine was ‘Days of Change’ by a mile…
DC: Oh, really? That’s a really good question mate. It’s really put me on the spot that has. I think because it was so unusual and radically different, ‘I’m Not Free’.
PB: ‘…But I’m Cheap?’
DC: We should never have been doing extended guitar solos, it should never have been done, and we did it. And when we play it live it goes down a storm.
PB: Thanks for giving us the time to chat with you, it’s certainly been a big moment for me and good luck with whatever you do in the future and never stop doing what you do.
DC: Cheers! I’ll try not to but we are all getting older mate!
Secret Affair play the ‘Glory Boys’ 40th Anniversary Tour in April and May 2019 supported by Squire.