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Cult indie rockers The Godfathers are currently celebrating their thirty-fifth anniversary with blazing new single ‘I’m Not Your Slave’/‘Wild and Free’. Lead singer Peter Coyne talks to Denzil Watson about his undying thirst for rock n’ roll and future plans.
They’ve released eight studio albums including 1988’s sophomore album ‘Birth, School, Work, Death’. They’ve trod the boards up and down the UK and all over the world, bringing their no-nonsense brand of primal guitar-driven rock n’ roll to appreciative audiences. Originally formed back in 1985 by the Brothers Coyne – Peter on vocals and Chris on bass - they quickly became known for their sharp suits and even sharper tunes. Now down to sole original member Peter, the band have a new line-up post last year’s Rebellion Festival. Celebrating the band’s thirty-fifth anniversary the outfit have just released blistering double A-sided single ‘I'm Not Your Slave’/’Wild and Free’.
Pennyblackmusic caught up with the band’s driving force and mercurial frontman Peter Coyne to discover the eternal flame of rock n’ roll is still burning brightly.
PB: Peter Coyne, how have these COVID-19 times treating you?
PETER COYNE: Not bad. I can’t complain. I live in a place called Prestwick which is on the north-west coast of Scotland and it is a really beautiful part of the country. I live five minutes from a beach, and I’ve got a dog called Pixie who helps keep me alive because I have to take her out for walks every day. She’s quite hyperactive so I take her out for walks on golf courses and beaches. I can’t image how hard it is for people who live in cramped conditions and tower-blocks and how they put up with all this lockdown stuff. But for me personally, it’s not been that bad. We had to cancel loads of concerts this year because it’s the thirty-fifth anniversary of the band hence why we’re releasing the single ‘I’m Not Your Slave” and ‘Wild and Free’ on the 17th of June. It’s timed exactly thirty-five years to the day that the line-up played our first ever gig. We had some massive festivals lined up. I can’t tell you the band, but we had six football stadium gigs lined up in Germany. Massive band and fabulous money.
We had a month-long tour of Canada. A tour of Spain, France, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. We had Rebellion Festival in Blackpool where we were headlining. They asked us to do the ‘Birth, School, Work Death’ lbum from start to finish. So that’s just some of the stuff we’ve had to cancel this year. The same as all the bands this year. But I say “count your blessings” as people are dying left, right and centre. It’s heart-breaking and I just can’t watch the news. I get really angry. I’m a proper news junkie and have been since I was a kid. When I see the stuff the so-called UK Government puts out in terms of their so-called line on Coronavirus, it’s just shocking. I get so angry I could kill.
Again, I’m quite lucky because I live up here in Scotland where they are a bit more sensible. I like the government, I like the SNP. I’m a big supporter of Scottish independence. I can’t wait to see it free itself from the UK. Unfortunately, this touches everybody. Our lovely neighbour, Fiona, died of Coronavirus. She and her husband had it and her husband survived but she died. Literally next door. So that’s why I keep saying “Count your blessings”. We’ve had to cancel shitloads of concerts. But no big deal, in the whole scheme of things.
PB: In that context, I bet you are itching to get back into the practice room and then out on the road?
PC: Sure. I’ve been playing gigs since 1983, with the Sid Presley Experience and then The Godfathers. So apart from when we took a break between 2000 and 2008, I’ve been touring round the world all the time. So, it’s quite unusual for me to be not doing that. The Godfathers are known as a live band, thank God, so of course I’m missing it. We’ve got a fantastic line-up of the group here and now and I can’t wait play with these guys again and meet up because we have such a laugh, it’s incredible. We’ve got John Priestley on bass. He produced and engineer our new single. I’ve got Billy Duncanson on drums and Richie Simpson on guitar, who used to be in Heavy Drapes. They’re like a double act. Then there’s Wayne Vermaak on guitar as well. He auditioned for the band about four years ago and somehow, he just didn’t get the job. I don’t know why. But I’m so glad he’s in the band right here and now because it works so well.
PB: I’ve listened to your new single and I’m really digging it. It’s a real double-barrelled slice of guitar-driven Godfathers’ goodness. I bet you are happy how it turned out. Personally, I think it’s up there with the best things you’ve done and a fitting way to celebrate thirty-five years of the group.
PC: It’s lovely to hear that from people but that’s what we want to hear every time. Of course, The Godfathers is a band that has got quite a long and involved history. And I’m proud of that history. I think we have made some fantastic records and played some great concerts all around the world. But, for me, the most important record is the next one. We always look forwards and try and bring something fresh and new to what we are doing.
PB: For many bands, they try to reinvent themselves, both image and sound-wise but often taking them away from the ethos that first drove them to form the band. With The Godfathers, for me, you have always been true to the spirit of good, old-fashioned, Rock n’ roll. Let’s call it proper rock n’ roll.
PC: Yeah, our benchmark is proper rock n’ roll. But it’s such a broad spectrum and you can do anything you want with that area of music. I never feel tied down by it like “Oh, we’ve got to be like this” or “We’ve got to be like that”. Plus, we’ll never try to replicate what we did before. For one, it would be impossible and two, I don’t want to write a (1986 debut LP) ‘Hit by Hit: The Sequel’ or ‘Birth, School, Work, Death: The Follow Up’ or whatever. I want to do something right here, right now.
There’s one line in ‘I’m Not Your Slave’ just before the solo comes in, and I’m talking about a relationship. It’s not necessarily a relationship between a man and a woman. It’s about a lot of relationships. It could be the relationship between one nation and another nation and I say “This is where we are at now”. And this is where we are at now with our music with songs like ‘I’m Not Your Slave’ and ‘Wild and Free’. There was another song that was a contender for release around this time, but we just couldn’t do it. It’s a brilliant number called ‘Dead In Los Angeles’ but with the pandemic going on there is no way on God’s Earth we could release a song called that. It’s got nothing to do with Coronavirus. It’s the last night on Planet Earth of a rock star. It’s about seven minutes long and it has got so many changes in it. I think it’s an incredible piece of music and it’s going to be a fantastic part of the next Godfathers’ album. So, we’ve got those two songs, this one and we’ve got two or three or four others semi on the go, which we’ve got to whip up collectively when we all meet up, you know? That’s what is exciting. I want to get excited by us making our music and in that way, you can excite other people.
PB: I don’t know whether it was the title, but ‘I’m Not Your Slave’ brought to mind Oz band the Lime Spiders. I’m loving the chorus and the backing vocals.
PC: The Lime Spiders supported The Godfathers on a tour of Australia. They’re a fantastic band. Yeah, Mick Blood. I love that song ‘Slave Girl’ but it’s got nothing to do with that.
PB: It was the title I guess plus the fact that they are also a proper no-nonsense rockers.
PC: It’s not necessarily about a woman or a man. I think the lyrics are quite good on that because a woman could sing that number and she would make it totally different. You wouldn’t have to change a single lyric on it though.
PB: They’re always the best lyrics, aren’t they? ‘Wild and Free’ is another Godfathers banger. I’m getting a bit of a Stooges’ vibe from that one.
PC: If you’re going to nick things you need to nick from the best. A few people have said that. ‘TV Eye’ (from 1973’s ‘Fun House’ album) or whatever it is. That’s just the initial intro. Once it all kicks in, it all starts to unfold a bit. What I like about ‘Wild and Free’ is there is plenty of space for things to breathe a bit. It’s not necessarily that dense. They are both quite exciting songs and I’m quite happy with them.
PB: It’s a really powerful production job too.
PC: That’s John Priestley, the bass player. He produced it, he engineered it. Before he was in The Godfathers he was in The Damned, so he’s got a great track record himself. He’s a brilliant musician. Obviously, he plays wicked bass. He plays guitar fantastic, keyboards, drums. All kinds of things. And he produces and engineers as well. And he’s funny as fuck too. He’s a brilliant character. As are all the other guys in the band. We were going over on the ferry to do the last European dates we did, and we were going to play ‘Rockpalast’ which is a massive German TV show. ‘Rockpalast’ has been going since 1974. David Bowie’s done it. Bob Marley, U2, you name it, they’ve all done that show or been invited to do it. We did it in 1990 and they asked us to do it this year.
PB: The single is the first thing you’ve recorded with the new line up ,isn’t it? With an all-new band behind you, everything seems to have come together very quickly. The two new tracks sound like an established band that’s been around for a while.
PC: We started playing together in September last year. We played a festival in Germany, then we done a tour of Spain, Germany, France, Belgium, and Holland. We did about four weeks out in Europe together and then we broke up for Christmas. Then we came back early in the New Year with four dates in the UK playing the new stuff. The three dates in Europe including the ‘Rockpalast’ TV special and then lockdown started happening, so we had to come home. But we came home, had a day off and it was always planned anyway, so we went straight into the studio to record. It was on St Patrick’s Day, the 17th March. Three days in the studio. Both those tracks were finished then I came home for my birthday on March 20th and this is where we’re at now.
PB: So, you just literally just snuck it in before lockdown slammed the doors shut.
PC: We’d done Rockpalast and Belgium was the next stop. We did the gig and it duly went into lockdown the next day. Then we moved on to Rotterdam. After we played that gig, Holland went into lockdown. We had one gig back in Belgium the next day, but we had to come home as Belgium was already in lockdown. Then once we’d finished in the studio as we got home the UK went into lockdown. So, it was meant to be that we recorded those songs. It’s quite strange how these things work out. ‘I’m Not Your Slave’ and ‘Wild and Free’ are quite pertinent even though they weren’t written about this specific situation.
PB: Going back from that a little bit, there was little bit on controversy between changing from the previous line-up line up to the current one. You changed the whole band and I think I read somewhere that you fired the old band via social media.
PC: It came across like that and it’s true in one way. But I don’t want to keep banging on about it as I don’t want to talk about that at all. But I’ll tell you why. I’d tried and tried and tried to speak to these people for a good year and they just weren’t listening to me. I kept saying “We have got to make some new music. It’s the band’s thirty-fifth anniversary next year and we’ve got to deliver something”.
PB: So, was that the main issue, that they were happy playing live but didn’t want to create a new Godfathers album?
PC: Yeah, not as far as I was concerned. And I couldn’t honestly say they were enjoying the experience of being in the band or I was enjoying the experience of being in the band with them. So, something had to give. I tried to set up two meetings to discuss this and try and sit down and sort it all out. We did make a good album in ‘A Big Bad Beautiful Noise’ (2017) and I wanted to carry on and move it upward. But that’s how it happened. So, after we’d played Rebellion last year, I’d just had enough, and I snapped. There were a lot of extenuating circumstances.
People just don’t realise what goes on between people in a band and how things had occurred in the past that led up to what some people may think is dramatic, but I’d got extremely good reasons for doing it and I’m so happy I did do it because I couldn’t be more happier than I am playing with the guys I’m playing with and making the music we’re playing. It’s a proper group again and I think I made the right decision.
PB: With you being the only remaining member of the band, and not playing an instrument, is it difficult to keep the ‘ethos’ and sound of the band intact? How do you carry that Godfathers sound into the future when you have changed the whole line-up?
PC: It’s rock n’ roll, it’s not rocket science. If I explained to everybody, they’d be doing it themselves. I don’t write music, that’s true. But I do come up with melodies and I do come up with musical ideas. That’s a fact. I don’t want to bang on about what I do and what I don’t do in the band. Sometime the lyrics come first, and the music comes second. For ‘A Big Bad Beautiful Noise” I had all the lyrics written out and ready to go and when I’d done the original demo for that number, I’d done it over a drumbeat. When we went into the studio to record it, I tried to do the vocals again but, for some reason, it wasn’t working. I really preferred the vocals on the demo which I did in one take and that is what you can hear on the album. The guy who produced the album, Paul Robert Gray, said he liked the vocals on the demo better too. So sometimes the lyrics come first, and the music is added on top of it. That’s just one example. And I do come up with musical ideas. There’s a piano bit in the middle of ‘I’m Not Your Slave’ and I wanted a sort of John Barry ‘Bond’ vibe so I spoke to John about that and he transcribed it for me on keyboards and I went “That’s it!”. So, I don’t play an instrument, but I do come up with musical ideas and I do that quite a lot.
PB: But despite the line-up changes you still really sound like The Godfathers.
PC: Thank you. To me, that’s the ultimate compliment. Of course, we sound like The Godfathers. We are The Godfathers!
PB: Coming into your thirty-fifth year, The Godfathers have now spanned four decades, since you formed the band out of the ashes of The Sid Presley Experience back in 1985. Did you think back then the band would be blessed with such longevity?
PC: Absolutely not. No way. Me and my brother Chris started the band to avoid work and because we loved rock n’ roll music and it turned into the longest, hardest job we’ve ever had in our lives. You look at old interviews with Mick Jagger from 1964 and he says “Oh, I can see it continuing for a year or two and that’s it”. Nobody sees beyond the next year or the one after it or beyond. You just want to do all the touring. Especially in a volatile thing like a rock n’ roll group. All bands are the same pretty much where it’s like there’s always these intense relationships, and this one is firing up or that one’s exploding. That one’s sad or this one’s trying to kill himself. There’s always something going on. Do you know what I mean? It’s not a normal job to be in. And, of course, you can’t predict things along the lines of “OK, I’ll start this band in 1985 and I’ll still be here in 2020”. In 1985 I thought that in 2020 we’d all be flying around in little cars like ‘The Jetsons’, instead of driving. You see the future differently. You don’t think about that. You think about the present – the next gig or the next single. You don’t think thirty-five years ahead. That’s incredible.
PB: Are you still as hungry to do gigs and record and release new material as the young Peter Coyne was back in 1985?
PC: Definitely. That for me is part of the whole thing. For me, we’ve got to come up with brilliant new material. Shit or get off the pot, as they say. You’ve got to produce the artistic goods. I feel we’ve definitely done that with the current single and we’ll definitely do it with the next album. It will be a killer album from start to finish. I have no doubt about that whatsoever. I’m just as hungry now to show people that we can still do it, big time, and make exciting, entertaining, catchy, popular music that is actual rock n’ roll.
PB: Do you think that is the key to your longevity, because you know what you want to do, what you love and who you are as a group?
PC: We know what we want to do. We’re not dictated to by a current fad or what is going on. There’s a history and tradition to do with rock n’ roll music and The Godfathers, at their best, personify that. Not all the time, but certainly most of the time. So, you have got to have your own identity. I never feel trapped within a sound, or “Oh, I want to do this”. You know, I’m not going to make a techno album, but I wouldn’t want to hear it anyway. I might do a techno track. But I would not want to do a techno album. I love rock n’ roll. It embraces rockabilly, glam rock, punk rock music, blues. The best of what you’ve got out there, we shove into our music. And, of course, it sound like us.
Like us, you live and breathe music. That’s why you’re doing this interview with me here today. That’s why I’m taking to you here today, because music is so important. I know how our music has helped people out. I’ve not asked, they’ve told me. “When we met I played her ‘She Gives Me Love’ and when we got married and we were going down the church aisle ‘Another You’ (from ‘More Songs About Love and Hate’) was playing”. It makes me cry sometimes. Not that I’m trying to get big headed about it. I’m proud of what we do, but I don’t think I’m better than anybody else. That’s what I loved about The Beatles because they were the lads next door but were the biggest band in the world. That’s an amazing juggling act to do. Our house was big on The Beatles and they were all over the world. But I looked on them as elder brothers. I think that the way to go. They were stars but they were approachable.
PB: Peter Coyne, thank you very much for your time and all the best for you and The Godfathers for what remains of 2020.
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