THOUGH it’s now routinely derided by the latest crop of fat, bitter and aged pop historians – that’s my gig, thank you very much – the NME’s C86 cassette was an essential purchase for those of us not in thrall to the emerging sound of hip hop.
A ragged and patchy but essential overview of some of the best bands working the UK’s vibrant DIY live circuit at the time, C86 featured contributions from the likes of Primal Scream, Stump, the Pastels, the Shop Assistants, Big Flame, A Witness and Miaow. As well as being musically diverse, it also featured a number of women among all the little white boys with guitars. Radical.
Of course, I’d been into a lot of the bands on C86 for ages before it came out. Cool huh? Well, I thought so at the time – but I’ve been wrong about this kind of stuff before and no doubt I will be again.
I was writing odd live reviews for the NME and was fully immersed in fanzine culture, as well as still being an avid listener to the venerable Peel, so I was hearing a lot of new music one way or another.
I bought Let Them Eat Bogshed on John Robb’s Vinyl Drip label and absolutely loved the weird, jerky guitar pop of the Hebden Bridge funsters, so I decided to put them on in town.
Taking my cue from my fanzine, Airstrip, I renamed the Henry’s function room the Hangar and booked the Membranes for the first gig and Bogshed for the second. Both gigs were big successes, although they were probably a bit unusual for the bands themselves.
Rather than the happy-go-lucky indie Last Of The Summer Winos I’d expected, Bogshed were actually Scousers (apart from drummer Tris King) who just happened to live in Hebden Bridge, and they were as miserable as fuck to boot. I was quite taken aback. True, it was a pretty shit venue, most of the crowd had never even heard of Bogshed before and were too busy skinning up to really get excited by the band’s performance, but apart from the Membranes, the last band who’d played here were Theatre of Hate four or five years before.
People knew how to react to their mates doing a load of well-worn cover versions but proper bands like Bogshed were another matter entirely. I actually thought they got a pretty decent reaction given that hardly anyone knew their stuff. They were probably used to going to shit-hole towns and finding people were so grateful that anyone had made the effort to visit that they just went bananas. And while that sometimes happened in Scunthorpe, it didn’t tonight.
Anyway, after the gig I paid them the full whack and somehow cajoled them into doing an interview for the fanzine.
They weren’t happy.
* * *
“WE’RE a pretty easy band to put down because they don’t really know what we’re about or anything .. We don’t know what we’re about either.”
Phil Hartley, singer man with wonder band Bogshed, talks about the band’s relationship with the press with the same air of bored indifference with which he talks about most things. For a combo who make such exciting and vital music, Bogshed are remarkably unenthusiastic .. about anything.
Ever since the turn of the year, and in some enlightened circles, a good year before that, Bogshed have become the band to mention when the talk turns to the Next Big Thing in indie-land.
Coverage in the national music press seemed to reach saturation point late last year. They had unanimously positive reviews of their first record, Let Them Eat Bogshed, and their gigs rarely went unreviewed in the NME or Melody Maker. Hartley even had his top ten events of 1985 published in the end of year Sounds (including the memorable: “Demis Roussos singing for his butt in that highjacked plane”).
So they were definitely built up by the press. Were they wary of being knocked down by the press too?
“They try and create something, the press,” says drummer Tris King. “And if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.”
“They already have knocked us down,” adds Hartley. “It doesn’t make any difference to us. It just falls flat. You could pick on us for one song, but the next one you could find really brilliant. We don’t have just one sound.”
Good point. There’s a lot of variety in the songs Bogshed write. This is most obvious when they play live. The bouncy, bluesy singalong of Morning Sir has very little in common with the stop and start thud of Summer In My Lunchtime.
It makes them difficult to pin down – just try explaining their music to someone who’s never heard them. They’d sound like a comedy band.
“We’re a very pastichey band and we do lots of different stuff. I think because of that we pick up different bits of different audiences,” decides Hartley. “I don’t think we’d ever have one hardcore following.”
“Imagine what they’d be like,” says King with a grimace.
Would you get bored playing just one style of music?
“We haven’t got a style,” guitarist Mark McQuaid tells me.
“It just happens,” agrees King.
“We don’t think of it in terms of style,” adds bassist Mike Bryson.
“We just think, this is a tune,” says King. “It comes off the top of our heads.”
“It just ends up sounding like something.”
This is a band with a very peculiar self-image. Earlier this year, McQuaid told Sounds that the only reason people thought Bogshed were any good is because most bands are “rubbish, at the moment. I mean, we’re rubbish. I think that’s one of the main things about us. Most of what we do is rat shit.”
Are there any bands about that they like?
“Contemporary, or anything?” asks Hartley.
“I like contemporary or anything,” offers McQuaid.
“Yeah, I like contemporary records,” confirms King.
“I’m more of a secondhand records collector,” admits Hartley. “I buy Sixties and Seventies old singles and pinch things off other people. I like film themes.
“Bands at the moment .. I always say Big Flame.”
“A Witness, the Membranes, all the usual ones,” says King.
“I don’t like Big Flame at all,” says Bryson. “I think they’re a bunch of clever bastards. They’re just boring.”
Half Man Half Biscuit? Hartley looks like he’s having to try to find something nice to say about them.
“Ermm .. yeah. Good idea. Yeah, I think they’re really good.”
King tries as well: “They’re called Half Man Half Biscuit, aren’t they? That’s a really good name.”
“I don’t really like anyone,” decides Bryson.
Except Bogshed, I say, half expecting his answer.
“I don’t even like Bogshed.”
“I hate music,” adds King.
“I listen to stupid records for a laugh,” King tells me. “Like Gracie Fields and Frank Carson. The Wheeltappers & Shunters Social Club.”
“I find the more you make music, the more you hate it,” Bryson tells me.
“Yeah,” agrees McQuaid. “It instantly turns you off other bands.”
That just seems a bit arrogant to me.
“No, not at all,” argues Bryson. “I’m not being arrogant. Basically, I don’t like anything else.”
“It’s a really sad thing,” says King. “It’s totally ruined my enjoyment of any other music.”
“It does turn you off music once you’ve been in a band,” agrees Hartley. “You’re doing it all the time and when you’re not playing you don’t really want to listen to anything else.”
“You just get fed up listening to stuff,” continues Bryson. “But it depends on your mood, I suppose. Sometimes you can listen to loads of things and think they’re all fantastic, and I suppose there are loads of bands that I really like – but most of the time, I’m just not bothered.”
So, we’ve established that Bogshed don’t like their own music because it’s shit and people who do like it only like it because everything else is even shitter, right? Do you think it would appeal to the casual Radio One listener then? Stranger things have happened.
“It doesn’t even appeal to a casual punk listener,” contends McQuaid. “It doesn’t appeal to anyone.”
It did tonight.
“I didn’t hear anybody clapping,” says the guitarist.
Well, I think it’s about as enthusiastic as it gets in Scunthorpe mate. It has an attitude that I don’t think you see in other places.
“Oh, you do see it in other places,” disagrees King. “It’s a good test.”
Did you pass it tonight then? “Well, I don’t know .. no,” decides King. “It could’ve been better.”
“I think we played alright but there’s something going wrong somewhere,” says Bryson.
“We’ve got a long way to go before we get the sound we want live and on record,” adds King. “It’s very hard to do.”
“It’s hard to tell because in some places people go nutty but the last couple of gigs we’ve played we’ve had a really flat audience, and we’ve been starting to wonder what we’ve been doing wrong. In fact, we’re starting to get a bit narked about it,” says Bryson.
“I think it’s basically because we’ve got a lot of new songs and people don’t know them,” muses King.
“When you’ve got new stuff you get a bit nervous about it when it seems to fall flat,” explains Bryson.
I think I prefer your new material to the old stuff I’ve heard. Do you think it’s strong enough to get you on the telly, say the Tube or the Old Grey Whistle Test? Or do you stay an underexposed little indie band? Big fish in a small pond?
“We’ve got no money,” says McQuaid.
“There’s no such thing as an indie band who want to stay an indie,” Hartley tells me witheringly. “They’re all aspiring pop stars. Don’t let anyone fool you, it’s all crap. Everybody wants to be a film star.”
“If they’ve got a really rich mummy and daddy then maybe they could stay that way,” decides King.
So what about your songs then? A lot of them are pretty odd.
“A lot of our songs are two or three songs put together,” Hartley tells me. “You can have three verses about one thing, then you can have another one that’s totally unrelated. Fat Lad Exam Failure is a complete songs that’s just about one thing. Panties Please is all little bits slung together.”
I always thought it was about Les Dawson.
“No, no, I don’t really know what it’s about. It’s just about an attitude, I suppose you could take it as that. I’ve got no literal interpretation.”
“It’s better not to know the words. The fun is making your own meaning up,” says King. “That’s the fun of buying a good record. Why spoil it by printing the lyrics?”
“It’s dead boring when you’re listening to a record and reading a piece of paper,” chips in Bryson.
“You hear all sorts of funny things,” continues King. “We got a letter talking about that song I Lay Stuck. Brilliant name. It should have been called that.”
Hartley notices I look a bit confused: “It was Oily Stack, y’know?”
“Imagine what our lyrics would look like on paper,” muses Bryson.
“If you want to print the words, you may as well print the music as well,” mutters Hartley. “Don’t even have a record in the album cover and let people find out when they buy it.”
Yeah, that’d show ‘em. Bogshed fan bastards.
* * *
I ran into to a very drunk Mark McQuaid at some gig a while afterwards and he told me that the band had got into a massive argument in the van on the way back to Hebden Bridge.
There were other repercussions from the gig. Some guy from the local paper had come down to review the gig and mentioned something about barely being able to see from one side of the room to the other for all the ganja smoke.
It was all a storm in a tea-cup but it ended up on the front page of the paper a couple of days later. The landlord of the pub didn’t actually seem that bothered about people smoking weed in his pub but I think he could’ve done without it being announced in the local press. I nearly lost the venue.
Incidentally, 20-odd years and several landlords later, the venue is still called the Hangar. Do I get royalties from that?
Bogshed released a few more records, including a couple of decent albums, and split a couple of years later. Hartley pursued a solo career for a while but he and the rest of the band seemed to have dropped off the radar, apart from Mike Bryson, who stills plys his trade as “the world’s foremost cartoonist/illustrator.”
Incredibly, none of Bogshed’s music is in print at the moment.
I’ll let you know if I turn anything up.
Well, I turned up some rather sad news about Tris King. Best wishes to all those close to him.
[This interview was first published in Airstrip*4 fanzine in May, 1986. The excellent photo nicked from Sounds at the top of the piece was taken by Ronnie Randall]