I’ve always been partial to 70s power pop – Big Star, Cheap Trick, Shoes, The Beat – and back in the BlipFM days I remember discovering a cool Power Pop session that played it all. That session was hosted by a man named Jimmy Stagger, and if my memory serves me correctly he played Christine by an obscure British power pop band called Straight Eight. I hadn’t heard that song in about 25 years and probably gave him a bunch of props. But ever since I’ve rediscovered Straight Eight and their hook-filled, super-catchy rock and roll.
Even though they never made it over the pond, Straight Eight weren’t so obscure in Canada. They were signed to Toronto’s El Mocombo Records, a label run by a rock and roll renaissance man named Robert Dunn who also booked bands into the world-famous club of the same name (and is also now the proprietor of one of my fav local record stores The Village Idiot – where I also recently heard Straight Eight again). Because of this, Straight Eight received some airplay on Toronto radio and a couple of tracks – Christine, and Heartbreaker – found their way to my ears. Unfortunately I never held on to my original vinyl (I have mp3s), but I am always looking.
Straight Eight are a British band formed in 1976, discovered by Pete Townsend and signed to Pete’s Eel Pie Records before being picked up by Transatlantic Records(UK) and RCA in the States. The band put out three records, toured the UK and Europe with the likes of Queen, Hall and Oates, Slade, and were supposed to open for The Who, that is until Keith Moon passed away. That was the beginning of the end and they called it quits in 1984.
Fast forward 35 years and Straight Eight is back! After hearing them playing in The Village Idiot, I did a bit of digging and found that lo and behold, they had reunited! Now called Straight 8UK, they’ve just released a snazzy new record called New Guitar with three of the original members. We were lucky enough to get in touch with vocalist-guitarist Rick Cassman for a little Q&A.
But first, watch this:
3 tracks from the Shuffle n Cut LP.
I Can’t Stop
Tell us about how the band formed in 1976. How did you know John Burns (Genesis, David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Marc Bolan, Jethro Tull, Humble Pie, Motorhead)?
I was writing songs and working in my brothers record store in Chiswick, West London. I met John Burns through a girlfriend who was best mates with John’s girlfriend. John said I needed a band. In those days it was easy, you just placed a wanted ad in the Melody Maker. I found Richard ‘Boot’ Kingsman through the ad. He had a band doing covers, but needed a singer and some original songs, so we linked up. After a few rehearsals we started getting a good solid rock sound, and when drummer Rod Johnstone joined we were off and running. John took us into the studios and we started what became the first album.
Who were your influences early on?
Boot, loved Free, The Stones, The Who and I was really into American Rock and songwriters like Jackson Browne and Syd Barrett. When The Sex Pistols arrived we both got into that raw energy and block chord straight hard fast rhythm, mixed with angry vocals. I guess our sound became a hybrid of those people.
Punk (Sex Pistols, The Damned) was about to explode – how did Straight Eight fit into the scene in the UK at the time?
We never really did the punk thing although we had a bit of the attitude, energy and spiky hair. It was a strange period because the metal thing was happening as well. We never really fitted into either as we always had songs, with chorus’s, middles and ends.
When new wave came along we slipped into that scene, sounding similar to bands like The Cars and Blondie, but we were louder and more aggressive and not so homogenised. Songs, it was all about the songs. Still is really. I guess we were a tight little rock band with swagger. It was difficult because we could not be pigeon holed into one specific genre.
How did you become involved with Pete Townsend?
Pete got to hear our John Burns demos through his talent scout at the time, Peter Makowski, also a freelance music journalist. I was working in the record store when Pete called me and said he wanted to meet and talk record and publishing deals with me.
A week later we had signed to his label and started our first album, ‘No Noise From Here’. He was great, really supportive. I think he liked the fact we sounded a bit like The Who!
You opened for Queen, tell us what that was like.
Amazing. They were huge and we were tiny! We learnt tons on that short European Tour with them. Playing in the Berlin Olympic Stadium to a sell out crowd was a mind blower considering a few months before we had been playing The Nashville in Hammersmith.
I first heard Straight Eight (Christine) on the radio here in Canada and remember freaking out. (as an aside Robert Dunn of El Mocambo Records owns a local record store in my small city, amazing guy).
Did you ever make it over to North America?
We love Robert, he supported us after we moved from Eel Pie. He financed our second album and really worked us hard but unfortunately we never got the opportunity to cross the pond. I am convinced if we had we would have been massive as our music was getting radio AirPlay right across America. We were meant to support The Who on a big American tour as Pete was about to sign his label over to Atlantic Records. But Keith Moon died and the whole deal bombed out. Pete folded his plans and we were left without a deal. Robert stepped in thankfully…
How and why did the reunion happen in 2013?
It was Steve Cherry our bass players birthday and he called me from Copenhagen where he now lives to ask me if we could get the old band together and play a few tunes. He hired a hall and we flew over, no rehearsal, just launched into a few songs from the second album. It was as if we had never been away. The energy and music just clicked straight away. We had a blast and decided to make a new record and see what happened… Two and a half years later we finished it and now we are back!
Why the name change to Straight 8UK?
Unfortunately we never registered the name back in the day. When we were building our website we realised there was another band in the UK playing under the name Straight Eight. A soul, party band! So we had to add the UK bit in order to capture domain names and register our new stuff. We are still trying to get the domain name straight eight back but it could take some time.
The new album – NEW GUITAR – is out. Tell us about the record.
We decided to make a record in our own time, with us producing and in a democratic band way. We self financed it and used various studios including our own home set ups to record it. I would come up with some basic song structures and lyrics, send them via the web to Steve, he would edit and suggest stuff, then we would get Boot to put guitars on. The first ‘real’ sessions took place in Manchester where our original drummer Paul Turner lived. We used a funky studio called Eve and recorded a couple of rhythm tracks. Once we had a few ideas and the songs started taking shape we hired a great little studio in Brighton called The Park and recorded ‘live drums’ with our Swiss drummer Christopher Beck. The audio files would then go back and forth between all of us whilst various overdubs were added. After nearly eighteen months of working we had thirteen songs we were happy with. We then got engineer Nick Brine, who has worked with Oasis and The Darkness to mix the whole thing at RockField Studios in Wales. It was an intensive couple of weeks work but highly rewarding. We needed that ‘third ear’ to sort out all the tracks and pull out the songs. Some of the songs had over 60 audio tracks on them, layers of guitars, vocals, keyboards and more. There’s a lot of colour in the record. Every time I listen now I still hear new things. I think the songs and performance are the best we have ever recorded.
Will there be a tour in 2015/2016?
I hope so. We really want to play. Being an international band now it’s not easy to get everyone together in the same room, but with some decent planning anything is possible. We are seeking agency representation and would love to come to the USA and Canada in 2016. I would love to do some festivals in the summer too. We launch the album next week at London’s Eel Pie Club in Twickenham, right back where we started in 1977. It has been a long journey but worth every minute. We were always a Great ‘live’ Band and that’s what we enjoy doing most, so expect to see us around for a while…
LISTEN TO NEW GUITAR on iTUNES HERE