Thanks for joining us guys. It’s great to be chatting to one of the UK’s original punk bands, The Boys, who were there right at the beginning of everything. 2018 is actually going to be an exciting year for you guys – we’ll come onto that in a bit.
As a Leeds lad (old man), I’m actually really interested in going back to the beginning when Matt & John met in Leeds. I know Matt, you were born in and grew up in Leeds and you met John at Jacob Kramer School of Art in Leeds, in 1968.
What are your memories of Leeds in those days ?
Matt: Being a university city, Leeds was a great place for nightlife and there was always at least half a dozen parties you could go to on a weekend. But it was not the best place to get into or form a band though, so I always intended to head to London once Art College was done.
John: I really enjoyed growing up in Leeds with my dear old Mum and two older Sisters, Maureen & Margaret, who introduced me to music from a very early age. As a result of growing up in Leeds I’m a lifelong supporter of Leeds United which has been a cross to bear over the past few years!
Matt, you wrote Brickfield Nights about growing up in Leeds.
“Remember those dark nights down Brickfield – Never a blade in sight – Brickfield Nights – No youth club, no coffee bar Saturday was the local cinema night – Brickfield Nights – Every night we`d meet at the same place same time – Late nights spent kicking round a football – We carved our initials on the school wall – Remember those Brickfield Nights – Remember those Brickfield Nights – It seems so long, those days are gone – Dark nights down Brickfield – On summer nights like a sauna – We always met by the corner light – Brickfield Nights – Then the girls came with their long hair – High heels and the make up never quite right – Brickfield Nights – Every night we`d meet at the same place same time – Saturdays at the local dance hall – They carved our initials on the school wall”
The lyrics are quite romantic, of a lost time and innocence. Do they still resonate with you today ?
Matt: Very much so. As kids, The Brickfield was the name we had for a flattened open space that was the result of slum clearance and/or maybe WWII bomb damage. It was our local playground – definitely no grass but plenty of broken bricks and rubble to chuck at each other. I revisited there a few years back and saw that it is now a real park officially called Brickfield Park with playground, grass and flowers. Even though it’s personal to me, a lot of people from other parts of the world have told me it resonates with their own experiences growing up.
I’ve got a real interest in Leeds Music History. The 60’s and early 70’s in Leeds seems quite sparse in terms of real musical talent and success. What are your recollections of the Leeds music scene when you were at Art School ?
Matt: Unlike relatively nearby Liverpool and Manchester there was very little music heritage for us to relate to in Leeds. Robert Palmer springs to mind, I remember meeting him when he was in the Mandrakes who were well known locally, but even he had to go down to London to have major success.
John: I met Matt in Art School and we hit it off straight away. Matt shared a flat with his elder brother and I used to go and stay with them on a weekend, taking with me a hamper prepared by my Mum – so they always welcomed me! To be honest I didn’t pay too much attention to the local music scene at that time, I was into established bands like the Small Faces, The Beatles, the Who and the Rolling Stones. In fact Matt and I used the skills we’d learned at Art School to forge some tickets for a Rolling Stones gig, which we managed to get into without paying!
Did you actually play together in a band when you were in Leeds ?
Matt: We were never in a band together in Leeds but John used to come around to my flat most weekends to hang out and play guitar etc.
John: Matt showed me my first chord on the guitar and I took to it from there, but I didn’t play in any bands with Matt until we moved to London.
What were your original intentions when you made the decision to move to London in 1971 ?
Matt: My sole goal was to play music and write songs.
John: Matt decided he was going to move to London with Barry Jones (who became co-owner of the Roxy club) and it seemed a good idea at the time so I decided to tag along for the ride.
Casino, what brought you from Norway to London?
Casino: I was born in Norway, and I moved back when I met Gary Holton in London. We both decided to escape to spend a few years recording and touring in Scandinavia. It turned out to be very successful, with 4 albums topping the charts and touring all the time.
You formed The Hollywood Brats in ’72 and had quite a thing going. What are your memories of The Brats ?
Casino: I don´t remember much from those days (or maybe I do, but don´t want to). I recommend anyone interested in The Brats to read Andrew Matheson´s book “Sick On You”. It covers it all.
Casino & Matt, you both featured in The London SS – I guess a punk supergroup if ever there was one. Mick Jones (The Clash), Brian James (The Damned), Tony James (Generation X), Rat Scabies (The Damned), Paul Simenon (The Clash) and yourselves, all featured at one time or other but you never played a gig. There’s a great interview with Tony James on the Generation X Anthology CD, where he describes how he met Mick Jones at a Heavy Metal Kids gig and that they then tried to form a band together, which was The London SS. While The Pistols were rehearsing in Denmark Street (unbeknownst to Tony & Mick) The London SS were rehearsing below a café in Praed Street in Paddington. Tony states that until the first Ramones album came out, all the fledgling punks were playing slower material like The MC5 and Stooges but The Ramones just speeded everyone’s music up. As you were both there right at the beginning, how do you see the start of what became punk ?
Matt: That’s right, The Ramones definitely influenced us to speed up. Like them we had the songs and catchy melodies so all we needed to do was up the pace and we were ready to go. The scene was very small to begin with but I was convinced that punk was going to be the next big thing to follow on from 50s rock ‘n’ roll, the 60’s British explosion, Flower Pop and early 70s glam rock.
Casino: Tony forgets to mention that Mick Jones and himself got hold of The Hollywood Brats “Grown Up Wrong” LP (released only in Norway in 1974). They loved the album, and told us they used to play it all the time. They once came to my door in Paddington and asked me to sign their album. They had long hair in those days, so I told them to “Fuck Off!” as I thought they were a couple of hippies.
How do you think the media influenced the scene ?
Matt: In the beginning it was the other way round – the scene influenced the media. There was generally a lot of resistance to punk from venues, recording studios, radio stations, music papers and record companies at first but once they saw how popular it was becoming with the kids they changed their tune.
The Boys went on to support The Ramones and Cas you worked with Gary Holton (of The Heavy Metal Kids). What are your memories of those guys ?
Casino: The Ramones hated each other, but the concerts were fabulous. I loved The Ramones! Gary Holton was probably the best frontman I have ever played with. We were brothers in arms, and shared everything (!).
Matt, you left The London SS. How did John come back on the scene to create The Boys?
Matt: When I headed to London, John had decided to come along with me and around the time of the London SS he was living across the road from me. So when Cas and I were looking for band members for The Boys, he was my first suggestion.
The Boys became the first UK punk band to sign an album deal in January 1977. People talk about The Damned and The Sex Pistols as the first punk bands out of the blocks. Also, in terms of commercial success and the “name” punk bands, would it be fair to say that you get overlooked by the mainstream press ?
Matt: I think we were overlooked to a certain extent but mainly I think we signed a record deal too soon. We’d never heard of NEMS as a record company but we knew they were a good live booking agency so that’s why we signed with them – thinking at least they would get us gigs. At the time we were running out of places to play because venues were saying we were the worst band they had ever had and telling us to fuck off and never come back. But if we’d waited just a matter of weeks we could have signed to a major because the punk scene was snowballing. A good example of that was when we played a support gig at Dingwalls. As we were going off stage the DJ during the changeover announced that we were the worst band to have ever played there. That same gig got us our record contract and a rave review in the NME. Around a month later we were headlining at Dingwalls and the same DJ announced “the fabulous return of The Boys”.
John: Yeah, I think it was a consequence of signing to NEMS. Had we waited a couple of weeks Polydor wanted to sign us. But we couldn’t get out of our deal with NEMS so Polydor signed the Jam instead and the rest of course is history.
Does that grate ?
Matt: Not particularly. Some of the most successful bands to come out of the Punk explosion were the least popular with the “cool” music press and the punk audiences in the early days for “not being punk enough” – The Police being a prime example.
John: Yeah of course it does but it’s a long time ago. The Boys could and should have been massive but it wasn’t to be. Life goes on.
You certainly had some high profile people championing you. In particular, I remember Annie Nightingale (Radio 1 D.J.) really bigging you up and also your alter ego, The Yobs. Did John Peel pick up on you and who else in the media were really on your side ?
Matt: John Peel was the first DJ to champion punk on the radio long before any other DJs or radio stations did. I’ll always appreciate him for that.
John: Yeah John Peel really liked us and gave us big wraps. We recorded two radio sessions for him.
The counter to mainstream success, I guess is critical acclaim. 40 years on, do you think you’re actually now getting the recognition you deserve ?
Matt: Nope, I’d like more recognition.
John: Well we never had a hit at the time but I meet so many people who tell me they love The Boys. I think those songs which Matt, Cas & I wrote over 40 years ago have stood up pretty well haven’t they.
They’re all bloody great albums but my favourite has to be the self-titled debut. Is this the greatest 2/3 note punk guitar solo ever committed to vinyl ?
What would each of your favourite Boys’ tracks and albums be ?
Matt: The first album is my favourite because it still sounds as fresh as the day it was released. I have many favourite tracks so it’s hard to say, but the ones I still most enjoy playing live are “Contract Hustle” and “Soda Pressing”.
Casino: Our first Lp “The Boys” is the most important of all the releases, and I´m still extremely proud of that album. I think “Punk Rock Menopause” is our best album.
John: I like them all but my favourite Boys album is “Punk Rock Menopause”, I’m really proud of it and so pleased it was greeted with such critical acclaim. Of our earlier songs, “First Time” will always have a special place for me. Matt & Cas, the Lennon & McCartney of punk, were the songwriting team and the driving force behind The Boys. After I wrote “First Time” I became recognised as an important songwriter in the band alongside Matt & Cas.
What about your favourite Boys’ tour in the 70’s and could you pick out one most memorable gig ?
Matt: It has to be our early tour with John Cale, because for most of those audiences we were the first UK punk band they’d seen. The most memorable gig also has to be on that tour when we played Swansea, which was Cale’s home town. In those days we had a policy of not playing encores and were in our dressing room having finished playing when after around ten minutes, John Cale’s manager came to say that John was refusing to go on stage until we did an encore as the audience was still calling for us. That’s what you’d call a properly deserved encore.
John: Without doubt my favourite tour was the 1980 UK tour we did with the Ramones. Teaching them how to play “Baby I Love You” was surreal. Cas used to play keyboards with the Ramones and after the tour they asked him to join as Casino Ramone. On that tour whenever they played “Baby I Love You” Matt, Duncan & I took it in turns to sing harmonies from behind behind the curtains. My favourite ever gig was on that Ramones tour when we played Leeds University, my home town. My Mum came to that gig along with both my sisters, it was the only time my Mum came to see The Boys. She even came backstage and met the Ramones too.
Matt, when the band split in ’81 / ’82, you went on to produce and quite successfully. What can you tell us about working with Toyah and Gary Holton/Casino Steel ?
Matt: With Gary Holton, it was just a case of being asked to help out laying down a vocal track in London with Gary to a backing track of “Ruby” recorded in Norway. When I heard the backing track I felt it needed beefing up. There was no snare backbeat so we added some treated handclaps, replaced some girly backing vocals with a guitar riff and then added Gary’s vocal. When Gary played it to Safari Records, they wanted to release it as a single and asked who the producer was, Gary told them that I was. That led to Safari asking me to produce Toyah.
A long shot this and it goes back to Leeds. Can you remember working with The Vaynes (Leeds band) and producing their track “Mr. Fixit” at The Slaughterhouse studios ?
Matt: Yes I do remember. The studio was great and the band was great but it was in Driffield, Yorkshire which was home to an army camp. We were working there over the weekend and I remember the nearest pub to the studio being a bit threatening as it was full of young, drunken crop-headed squadies who didn’t like the look of us. Nothing happened but it was a good pub not to get too drunk in.
Fast forward to 1999 and you finally reform after turning down numerous offers. What swung it for you ?
Matt: Because it was Japan and we’d never been there. A big Japanese band called Michelle Gun Elephant had covered two of our songs and our records were suddenly selling big time over there and we were asked to come over. Couldn’t resist really.
John: Matt said yes! We’d been getting bigger and bigger offers to play. I’d guested with Die Toten Hosen at the HITS Festival in Blackpool, the forerunner to Rebellion in 1996. Then in 1999 Vinyl Japan were releasing a couple of Boys CDs and gave us an offer which even Matt couldn’t refuse.
In 2014, more than 20 years after the band split you hit the studio again with “Punk Rock Menopause”. It’s another great album and is testament to what the band had and have still got. It probably got the recognition it deserved too. How was it, going back to recording together as a band and how do you view the results 3-4 years on ?
Matt: As songwriters Cas, John and myself had always been able to work together easily as we are generally on the same wavelength. So when we were back in the studio again even after 20 years it was like it had only been yesterday. I’m pleased that “Menopause…” can stand alongside all our previous albums.
John: I was apprehensive beforehand because you’re not sure that it would still work. But within a couple of hours it was clear that the old magic was still there. Matt came up with a riff, which turned into “1976”, and I was blown away – The Boys were well and truly back!
Heading into 2018, you’ve got some ambitious plans. How was the 100 Club gig in January ?
Matt: The 100 Club was fantastic.
John: Yes it was great, a sell out for the second year running.
You’re then playing The Rebellion Festival in August. Did you ever think back in the 70’s that punk would still be such a big thing, 40 years on ?
Matt: No I didn’t but in terms of fans worldwide, punk is actually bigger than it ever was. We’re actually playing two gigs at Rebellion this year – a Boys unplugged acoustic gig as well as the full-on electric one.
John: Not really, I don’t think anyone thought punk would still be around when we were in our sixties. I’m so looking forward to Rebellion as I had an accident in 2015 and ended up missing The Boys gig there that year.
Tell us about the two releases you’re working on.
Matt: Our self-titled debut album will be receiving a Special Edition splattered/colour vinyl release on 21 April to celebrate its 40th anniversary. We’re also discussing a box set release of the Safari albums.
As I’ve just been coming at this from a UK perspective, tell us about the China gigs and resultant recording.
Matt: I loved China. Despite being banned by the Chinese authorities, in 10 days we still managed to play a handful of secret gigs, record a live album, make a couple of videos and were the subject of a Chinese TV documentary. What at first looked like a disaster turned out to be a great success.
John: Well China was one heck of a lifetime experience. To arrive in China to find that our nine date tour had been cancelled by the Chinese Government and that we were national news was surreal. But we were determined to make the most of it so we played three secret underground gigs, made two promo videos and a one hour documentary. The documentary was filmed by a national TV station, although that was only aired once we’d left the country! The underground gigs were great, I think we were as tight as we’ve ever been as a band. I’m so proud of our “Undercover – Live in China” album.
To finish, have you any plans for gigs overseas ?
Matt: We always were and always will be interested in playing abroad but these days we tend to only accept the most interesting offers.
John: We’re going to Norway in April and will be headlining the big Punk & Disorderly Festival in Berlin, our first German gig for four years. I toured Argentina last year and am hoping to return to South America with The Boys later in the year.
Thanks so much for talking to us. Really appreciate it. Long Live The Boys !!