Simon Bromide - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 21 / 6 / 2022

Simon Bromide - Interview

South London-based singer-songwriter and Bromide frontman Simon Berridge speaks to John Clarkson about his debut solo album, 'Following the Moon', which he has released as Simon Bromide.


Simon Bromide is the moniker of South London-based singer-songwriter, guitarist and label owner Simon Berridge. Berridge has recorded six albums with his alternative rock band Bromide, all of which he has released on his own label Scratchy Records. Bromide started out as a noise rock trio when it formed in the mid-1990s but evolved into a solo vehicle for Berridge when its original bassist John Morrison left after the release of their debut album, ‘Iscariot Heart’ (1997). Berridge recorded Bromide’s next two albums, 'No.Space.Anymore. Even.Between.Words’ (2003) and ‘The Trouble with Bromide’ (2008), acoustically and alone at home. For Bromide’s fourth album, ‘Some Electric Sometime’(2012), Berridge however, returned to the recording studio for the first time in fifteen years, and at around about this time Bromide evolved back into a three-piece with original drummer Ed Lush back on board and former Gay Dad member Nigel of Bermondsey helping out in the temporary position of bass. After a permanent bassist was found in Hugo Wilkinson and they played their debut at a Pennyblackmusic Bands’ Night with the Willard Grant Conspiracy at the end of 2012, Bromide released two more albums, the joyfully abrasive ‘I Remember‘ (2015) and ‘I Woke Up’, both which married a 60’s pop sensibility with a distorted 90’s noise rock edge. Berridge’s seventh album, ‘Following the Moon’, was released on vinyl and digitally only at the tail end of last year as Simon Bromide. Recorded as were the last two Bromide albums at Brian O’Shaughnessy’s Bark Studios in Walthamstow in East London, 'Following the Moon' features Berridge on electric and acoustic guitar and vocals as well as an arsenal of special guests, and is more pop-oriented than its two predecessors. It opens with the breezy, bittersweet ‘The Waiting Room’, which tells of a life-changing piece of family history. ‘Chinua Achebe, which follows it, is a strident accolade to the Nobel Prize winning writer ‘Things Fall Apart’, and the elegiac, harmony-laden ‘The Skehans Song’, is also a tribute, this time to some of the musicians who hang out at the Easy Come club, a Wednesday evening open mic night where Berridge has learnt much of his craft. Other highlights include ‘The Argument’, which about the fall out with a former friend, features a sublime, melancholic solo from trumpet-player Terry Edwards (The Higsons, Nick Cave, Madness, Gallon Drunk); the wistful title track and the sparse, ethereal ‘Earth’s Answer’, which taking its lyrics from a poem by William Blake, is a duet with Scottish singer Julie-Anne McCambridge, and closes the album on a stark note. In our fourth interview with him, we spoke with Simon Berridge about ‘Following the Moon’. PB: You have put out Bromide albums before which were effectively solo LPs. Why did you decide to put this album out under the moniker of Simon Bromide? SB: I could have easily called it a Bromide album like the others, but over the last few years, however, Ed, Hugo and I had become a band as such, and Bromide had ceased to be only my project. That was evidenced by the fact that when I presented all the new songs for this album to Ed and Hugo they vetoed them on a democratic two-to-one basis out of three. It was fair enough. I think that bands should be democratic, and if 66% of your band is not into something there is not a great deal of point in proceeding (Laughs). Ed in particular has got quite a definite idea of stylistically of what he wants to do, and if I veer off he is liable to go, “Oh God! That sounds a bit Tom Petty” (Laughs). He is not so keen on playing pop songs, which I do tend to write a lot of. There is nothing worse than trying to get someone to play something that they don’t want to play. We had plenty of common ground on other material that we had written or Ed or I had written or Ed had written. It wasn’t like we were short of songs. PB: So it was basically down to creative differences? SB: The classic creative differences (Laughs). We didn’t want to be left out and not have a falling out over creative differences. I think that any band that didn’t go through that would feel short-changed. PB: Why did you decide to return to Bark Studios to record ‘Following the Moon’ there? SB: Just because I had got on well with Brian O’Shaughnessy who runs it before. He is a good people manager, and I need plenty of management in the studio. I did think, “Do I want to go back there? It is going to be different. It is obviously not a Bromide album,” but I am really glad that I did. He steered me through it all. There was quite a lot of people who ended up playing on it, so it needed someone solid to tie it all together, and he certainly did that. PB: With all the guest appearances on ‘Following the Moon’ how long did it take you to record it? SB: Most of it was done in one day with me on electric and acoustic guitars, Cosmo Wright on the bass - He is someone I have been playing a lot with at the Easycome Club and he knew my stuff pretty well - and then there was also Fells Guilherme who is a great drummer for a band called Children of the Pope and with a lot of other people as well. We only had one and a half practices with him, but he picks up things very quickly and the three of us went into Bark and did all the backing tracks in one day, which I was really pleased about as I didn’t know if we would manage that. So, we got the bones down in one day, and then there was a long process of filling in all the bits over a period of time, with people recording things remotely and sending them in. I don’t know how much time it all took if you added it all up, but I would imagine a couple of weeks if you put all the hours together . PB: The first track ‘The Waiting Room’ is all about fate and about how it can affect every one of us, but it particularly references your mum. SB: It comes from a story that she told me which I have always remembered, and that she had this boyfriend when she was pretty young and, I guess, in her early twenties. He lived somewhere else, and had written a letter to my mum proposing marriage, and she never received it, and presumed that she hadn’t heard from him and that was that. He also just presumed that he hadn’t heard from her and that was that I think he went off to live in Australia, and it was only through the parents that they later found out that he had proposed marriage and my mum had never received it, so if that had gone ahead I wouldn’t be here (Laughs). There are so many things that life misses by a hair’s breadth or a fraction. He apparently spent hours waiting for her at a train station after he had written the letter, and if she had got off the train then they would have got married, but she, of course, never got off the train. This all took place in the days of ‘Brief Encounter’, so I use some of that imagery from that film and the train arriving in the station without her in the song. PB: You also use that image of him waiting in the station in the animated video which accompanies the song. Who is Ben Pollard who directed it? SB: He is someone that I just found through the internet. It was through an Art Brut video that he did for their song, ‘Wham! Bang! Pow!’. I just really liked the way that he used David Attenborough animal footage to illustrate Art Brut’s song and the lyrics. I thought, “This guy knows what he is doing,” and contacted him. I have done other videos with him as well. He did one for Bromide’s ‘Magic Coins’, and then he did an excellent video for That Will Be Lunch’s ‘Play that Funky Music’ (One of the other acts on Scratchy Recordings - Ed) which is a Muppets style video, so I sent him‘The Waiting Room’ and told him a bit about what it was about. I remember him saying, “Oh yes, we could have a message board with train times to Preston and so on,” and he got a good set of names together for the notice board, He cooked the whole thing up and did a really good job, giving it a ‘Camberwick Green’ or, to be more exact, ‘Chigley’ look. PB: ‘The Skehans Song’ is a tribute to the Easy Come club and open mic night, where you have spent a lot of time. It involves lots of field recordings. Were they all made at the Easy Come? SB: No. It was an attempt to repeat the vibe at Easy Come. Once the backing track was done, I went up to Bark with Andy Hankdog, the main man at Easy Come, and Vinny Davies, who is another of the regulars there, and we got round the mic. We had some beer glasses that we were chinking and we just adlibbed. Hank did some really funny bits. Scarlett Woolf, who also performs there, came along later, and she has got a great voice and did again some adlibbing and singing. It sounds like everyone was there at the same time, PB: It tells tales about all these characters and personalities which you have encountered there. Do you see it as your ‘Walk on the Wide Side’? SB: I hadn’t thought of it like that, but I suppose so (Laughs). It is a great place in which you can learn more about what you are doing in terms of singing and playing to people, and by watching other people and learning from them. PB: So where in London is it? SB: It has been at several places in South East London. It was at the Ivy House for a long time, which is this lovely venue in Nunhead, and then at The Queen’s Head and then at Skehans where I wrote the song, and now it is at The Old Dispensary in Camberwell. All the places have had their merits, but in fact The Old Dispensary turned out very well. It is almost the perfect place for it. PB: ‘Chinua Achebe’ is about the author of ‘Things Fall Apart’ What was the appeal to you of his writing? SB: I can definitely recommend ‘Things Fall Apart’, but it took me, however, six or seven years to read it. A friend lent it to me, and I have always got a big pile of books to read, and I used to see the cover and go, “I don’t know. Do I want to read it?“ So many times I chose something else, and I finally thought, “Right! I am going to read this bloody book,” and was absolutely blown away by it. The style of the writing absolutely got to me. It was just so direct and dramatic, and things would just happen without any build-up. I suppose it is just like in cinema when someone crashes a car or gets shot or something dramatic happens and you jump. I felt that his writing style had that effect. I hadn’t really encountered that with any other writers in quite the same way. So, I was really taken with this book, and went on to read the other two in the trilogy. The subject matter also interested me. It is written from a black man’s point of view after the white man came over to Africa, supposedly showing them the way and bringing them religion and all the other stuff that comes with it, It gives this real perspective of what life is like in this village, which is very rural, and pretty basic with its own hierarchies and very intricate cultural system. It gives you a taste of how the white man was seen by these black Africans, and was not particularly welcome as they already had a perfectly good thing all worked out which was a lot more ecologically sound. PB: ‘The Argument’ features Terry Edwards who could be described as being Britain’s most prolific trumpet player. How did you get him involved? SB: That was down to a bit of luck. I had already met him briefly. We had a chat once at the Independent Record Market at the Scratchy stall. He pointed me towards a cassette manufacturer because he has got his own label Sartorial Records, and he told me where he got his cassettes made with these really cool, smoky plastic covers. Then I emailed him and said, “Would you like to do this track?” and thankfully he said yes. I think his trumpet-playing on it is really fantastic. He said, “Maybe I should come out at one point and come back in.” I had no particular plan other than to get some trumpet on it, so that was a welcome suggestion and I think it worked really. He has obviously got loads of experience playing with all these people, so I was very lucky. PB: The title track is very beautiful. It seems to be about chasing dreams which may come to nothing. SB: It is about meeting my wife Martha, which did have a few false starts. She actually dumped me at one point (Laughs). It is about how it didn’t originally lead me anywhere but thankfully later on it did and how true love eventually found its way. We have been married now since 2007, and I wrote the first version of that song in 2001 which was when we first met. PB: The final track ‘Earth’s Answer’ takes its words from a poem by William Blake. When did you first become aware of that poem? SB: It was in the mid-90s and comes from ‘Songs of Experience’. I was struck by its words. I have not too often taken lyrics from elsewhere, but for some reason I did with that one. I remember playing it down an open mic night at the 12-Bar in London and people responding well to it. I recorded a four track version at the time with Julie Anne McCambridge, who sang on this version on the album. I thought at the time, “Wow! I must do something with that some day,” and this seemed like the time for it to appear. PB: It concludes the album on a bleak note, especially in comparison to your last two albums. Was that intentional? SB: No. I didn’t plan the mood pattern of it. When you are trying to put an album together and come up with an order, you are obviously thinking a lot about flow as you are constructing a whole piece of music in a way. This album, however, follows exactly the same order we recorded it in. The backing tracks were recorded in the order that we recorded it in. That has never happened before. Usually it involves endless procrastination, but this time it was straight down. That song was something of an afterthought because it doesn’t involve bass and drums and just features acoustic guitar and vocals. It is lucky that it fits on the end. PB: It is like a coda to the rest of the record. SB: Yes, I think that you’re right. Stephen Elwell, who is a really talented multi-instrumentalist, also puts this great 'Hound of the Baskervilles’ noise on it, this windy thing with percussion and keyboards. He created this really spooky background to it. PB: Who is Julie-Anne McCambridge? SB: Julie is someone that I met down the 12-Bar Club in the mid-1990s. She is a really great singer-songwriter, and we have always kept in touch off and on. She had done the four-track version twenty five years before, so knew the track and very kindly agreed to sing on this version. It was all done remotely during lockdown.. We did it slightly differently to the original but essentially it is the same kind of duet. PB: Last couple of questions. Why did you decide to put this album out on vinyl and not do a CD version? SB: Mainly because my distributor Cargo said, “If you want to try and sell them in the shops, that is the format you have got to do it in because that is what record shops want,” I am not particularly fussy about formats. I know there is a lot of debate, but it was purely for financial reasons, to try and and make some money back and put it in the shops. I have, however, done it on CD as well. I have just put some CDRs up on Bandcamp as well. People still want them. They still play them as far as I can tell. I have noticed at indie label markets that when I have been doing them on the Scratchy stall CDs have this kind of retro cool again. PB: You have been getting some fantastic reviews for ‘Following the Moon’. Has that taken you by surprise? SB: Yes. You never know what people are going to think. I had a good feeling about the record because I enjoyed making it, and the people that I was playing with on the record seemed to like it. I was getting a good vibe off it. You obviously hope that people are going to like it, but I don’t think I have had reviews like that one before, various 9/10 reviews and there was an American blog which didn’t give it a score but was playing it "again and again and again." You think, “Wow! That is nice.” That is ultimately what you want. You want to make something that is worth all the effort and that people enjoy. There is nothing better. That is what I have been trying to do for all these years. PB: Thank you.

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