MUSIC WRITER IN JAPAN
15th Sept 2013
Q: I watched Sight & Sound in concert from 1977 again yesterday.
GP: Oh fucking hell! Was that at Golders Green – The Hippodrome?
Q: It was, yes. That band really cooked didn’t it?
GP: Yeah I think we had bit of energy then! (laughs)
Q: I never saw you guys back then; was it a good, bad or average night?
GP: I’d have to say it was probably pretty good. It was ’77 and we were kicking up pretty good by then. It was just that period, you know where we weren’t the loudest band but we tried to be the fastest – Britain’s fastest band, it just kept going. I heard some of that old stuff back before we reformed and did the new album and we started to think about the inevitable gigs and people were emailing each other saying ‘fucking hell!’ The speed of things was outrageous and as a listenable thing it bludgeoned most of it to death so listening back we said we’re not going to do that now and we can’t. Fool’s Gold for example from my Heat Treatment record was (sings guitar lick with moderate tempo) and by ’79 came along it was (sings guitar lick with fast tempo) with a horn section and it was ridiculous – it ruins the song. It’s ok for New York Shuffle.
Q: I love Fool’s Gold. It was my favourite song of yours until the new album came out but we’ll get to that later.
GP: It was a good one and now we’ do it in modern day we’ve taken it back to where it should be; an anthem. In those days there wasn’t any punk per se in ’76 as something that became a mainstream thing. It was a contender, the critics back page and bubbling but by ’77 it was ‘Oh shit!’ and we suddenly started to try to catch up.
Q: Rachael sweet ramped it up on her album as well.
GP: It was pretty speedy, yeah.
Q: That was a nice pop version but your original recording has a lot more pathos in it.
GP: Oh yes! It’s a sad, ballady-power-mid-tempo anthemic song and we’ve brought it back to that and it’s a thing of beauty. They are such great musicians, now and back then but now we can play the stuff with the respect and original intent but everything is of its time and it’s all good including that BBC show. I remember it being out and people saying it was great and it was a good performance, no question. I’ve just seen clips but I know we were good.
Q: Bob and Andrew are ridiculously underrated as musicians for me and was a big part of that band.
GP: Oh yeah. I brought that out in the production of the latest record as well. I took Howlin’ Wind and said ‘Let’s do Howlin’ Wind again’ in a way that it wasn’t the stodgy production of the later things we did. Howlin’ Wind is probably an organ and a piano on every track and it was part of the sound of that album very much and I made it that with Three Chords Good as well. Bob is one of those players that does play parts but every night on stage they are just maybe the basis of what he is doing and maybe not – you just let him go. Andrew is not a bass player who goes bum bum bum, he’s incredibly creative. He’s like Motown on LSD or something. He doesn’t take the ordinary route and he comes up with ideas, between him and Steve on drums, they’ve always worked things out and the same thing happened on the new album. They start talking to each other and we wonder what the hell they are talking about but then they play and it’ s ‘Ah! Ok, let them do it.’
Q: Was it you who actually put that band together remembering the musicians from various bands you’d seen or did they come recommended?
GP: No because I didn’t know any of those bands. My manager, Dave Robinson put it together. He was managing Brinsley Shwarz from the very early days and had his finger in all the pies of Pub Rock so he new Martin from Ducks Delux and Andrew and Steve from some little band called Bontemps Roulez – I don’t even know if they did gigs but Dave had his ear to the ground for everything. I was out in Surry and the reason I had come to London was because I had put an advert in the Melody Maker looking for musicians. I was in the suburbs and they were all learning about Uriah Heep in 1973/74, that was still the music, progressive, so any musicians I met didn’t really understand what I was into which was all the music I was into when I was a kid, all the Soul music and stuff. So I was writing these songs realizing that it must be in London; there must be people there so that’s when I put the ad in. I’d find myself in Crowthorne with some idiots there and then I was somewhere else and all these people answered the ad and then one guy called Noel Brown answered it and he was a sort of a rootsy Telecaster player, Lap steel and Dobro and I started sitting around his flat playing with him and I thought this guy understands what I’m doing. He had all this rootsy stuff down that I found myself into and I was writing songs like Back To Schooldays in ‘73/74 and there was nothing else like it around that I could hear. Van Morrison was a huge influence and Dylan did become an influence but I didn’t discover Dylan in the early days – I ignored him for some reason. Anyway, Noel introduced me to Paul Riley from Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers who I had seen their name in the paper. They had disbanded and been managed by Jake Riviera who knew Dave and said ‘You should meet this guy Dave Robinson. These songs are good and you need a manager’ and I said ‘That’s what I need.’ So I didn’t know any of this scene. The only thing I had done was go to Guildford to see The Naughty Rhythms Tour because I had read about Dr Feelgood, Kokomo and Chilli Willi so I went there in probably ’74 or ‘75 (Note: Naughty Rhythms Tour was Jan/Feb ’75) and I knew there were things going on in London; they understood this music. So that was how it all came together and Dave Robinson was the natural person because I didn’t know anyone else.
Q: All great musicians of course who know when to step up and step back during a song; did - or does I should say - everyone contribute their own parts or do you guide them? Run us through the demo- to- recording process.
GP: Well Dave, before he put them together around me, was recording his songs in his studio at the Hope & Anchor on his 8-track.
Q: This is the Between Me And You Stuff?
GP: Exactly. That was recorded there and we couldn’t improve on it so we used it on the record. So he was doing that and bringing in Andrew and Steve who played on an early version of Back To Schooldays, a very fast version which is on the Stiff Collection with backing singers and big horns and stuff. Then he introduced these other guys to me. I had heard the name Brinsley Schwarz because I had read it in the paper but I didn’t know what they were but Dave told me he managed them and they all gradually floated in. Dave was softly introducing me to these people and he had formulated the idea. It was totally him. He said that he thought these were the people how should back me and we went in the afternoon to rehearse in the Newlands Tavern in Peckham. I remember it being August, it was very warm and the people who owned it knew Dave and let us rehearse for free and we would just go and get beer from the tap and rehearse. The first rehearsal wasn’t good. Martin came up to me and said ‘I’m sorry, we’re better than this’. It was very weird and they were all like ‘Who is this guy? We don’t know him.’ I wasn’t on the scene, totally from nowhere and Dave was putting all this onus on me as being the new fucking Bob Dylan. He was a really keen but they were a bit suspicious, standoffish. They played but still to me it was the best thing I had ever done because I had just been jamming with hippies and shit. I was in Morocco two years before playing with some Gibraltarian guys, acid heads like me basically doing seventeen minute versions of Hey Joe. So here I am, I’ve developed this music very rapidly, three minute songs all roots orientated as you would call it now and I thought they were going to be good. I wasn’t going to complain to Dave and the next time we rehearsed it started to dome together. I would go to Bob’s flat and he would say the songs ‘are a bit embryonic aren’t they’ and I said ‘Yes because I don’t know anything, I’m just writing them.’ so I let them do their thing. I would put them right on anything that I knew was part of the song, don’t stray from that but they instinctively knew what I was doing and did a lot of the arrangement because I just didn’t have the head to deal with it.
Q: So for example that little part in Fool’s Gold (sings guitar lick)
GP: I would have had that riff. There would have been riffs that came with it and I think that would have been one of them but a lot of that album was Mutt Lange’s arrangements. Dave Robinson got him because he wanted him to do the best, most amazing arrangements so that we could have hits or something. I don’t know how Dave met him but he knew he was really big on arrangements and he wanted to take us somewhere so stuff like the key change in Heat Treatment, that’s Mutt Lange. He sat there with a guitar and would say ‘Brinsley, can we do something like this?’ (sings guitar riff from Heat Treatment break). He came up with that and everybody learnt a huge amount from him. The Rumour were stepped up and they were pretty stepped up anyway. There were a lot of elements in making this thing be what it was.
Q: It must have been quite mind blowing for you to hear this batch of songs of yours come alive like that.
GP: Yes. That was another thing going back to the first rehearsal. After we had rehearsed a couple of times, Dave bought this guy down named Nick Lowe who Dave said ‘He was in Brinsley Schwarz; he’ll be your producer’. Ok, I really had no clue. He was incredible to work with because he brought me into the control room and let me twiddle some knobs knowing nothing about studios and I’m in a professional studio for the first time. We would do takes and Nick would say it’s not working and we would say it’s not working, Nick would have an idea, they would come up with ideas, I’d throw in a guitar and say ‘It’s got to be like this.’ and it was all a co-operative. There’s not much I remember about it apart from the late night things when we would be there at 3am pretty ripped. Nick with a vodka bottle and doing mixes through a radio speaker because we wanted it to be a hit and all of us gathered around a microphone – Dave as well and whoever we could find – going ‘Hey Looord!’ It was brilliant and then a tramp wandered in! ‘Oooh can you spare something for me brothers?’ Dave grabbed him and said ‘No…off you go…’ I just remember odd things like that and always going down to the pub for a break. I think one of my favourites retrospectively almost more like some of the music I made later on which was a bit lower key was Between You And Me which wasn’t The Rumour at all; such a sweet song. You’ve got to realize that when I really started to learn guitar I was about twenty and James Taylor and Livingston Taylor, people like that and Joni Mitchell so I was learning to finger-pick writing sweeter songs before I started to get into this hard angrier style. Between You And Me reflected that and it always seems to get overlooked in my song writing but that was a favourite and still is. There are always songs that…I mean Fool’s Gold is just going to go on and on because it’s such a big song. Watch The Moon Come Down is another I like that goes on and on.
Q: You emerged at the same time as a lot of other great British songwriters (Ian Dury, Nick Lowe and later Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, etc) who stopped writing the pop love songs or at least wrote them in a different way, why do you think so many great writers emerged from Britain at the same time?
Q: Well Nick was way before me in ’71 in Brinsley Shwarz of course but yes. Again though, I am a lone wolf so my influences, as I started to write the good songs in ‘73/74 had gone back to when I was a kid when I was fourteen. Otis Redding and The Supremes and by the time Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks came out, I had started to pick up on Dylan. During the early seventies, I was getting away from the Pink Floyd thing and discovering Van Morrison’s records so my writing very much came from that and incorporating The Stones into it. The first album that I owned - I was thirteen I think - that my parents bought for me was the first Stones album so I was incorporating that and trying to be a bit Jagger-esque as well. So as I said, I didn’t know Nick or Ian Dury who was then Kilburn and the High Roads but I think I definitely had the idea I was going to be a good song writer and not an angry young but I wasn’t a good singer and somehow as I was writing these things I got this intensity in me that was building up, getting away from that hippy era, I was going opposite. When you are young you go from fashion to fashion and you negate the last one. My new one was intense and I had something to say. You know, don’t ask me questions; I’m really yelling a point across here! My vocal style, I wasn’t a singer so I screamed and I yelled and was very intense and caustic. There is a documentary out on me where Bruce Springsteen talks about me and he says amazing things that are quite profound that I hadn’t really thought about. He said ‘Graham was always caustic, the style was always caustic and maybe that made it harder to sell but behind that there were all these great things going on. Great emotion and great song writing’ and that’s what you’re talking about I think.
Q: Yes it is.
GP: Many people went ‘Oh, he’s just an angry young man’ and they missed the point a lot which is a valid point that you are making. It was part of the times and when I came out in ’76 there wasn’t anyone else doing that with that intense vocal style so then you immediately get buttonholed.
Q: Over the years you’ve often been misinterpreted and even coming right up to date with something like Coathangers; that must be frustrating.
GP: Well it is. They had forgotten that on Howlin’ Wind there was a song called Gypsy Blood which is an extremely romantic almost maudlin song and Between You And Me which deliberately came from the folk troubadour James Taylor type singers with the chords and everything. It wasn’t punk, it’s not the three chord stripped down stuff it’s something else so the misinterpretation continues really and I don’t help it by writing songs like Coathangers. As soon as I wrote it I went ‘Oh shit…’ and I was just angry at the Republicans in America: Aren’t we over this stuff about trying to criminalise women? I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t help but get mad so it comes back to me and in the meantime there are songs like Stop Crying About The Rain and Old Soul which is a really important song but there are some albums I have done where all the way through there are no Coathangers type songs. I’ve stuck to my guns but every now and then these fucking things pop up.
Q: You mentioned Gypsy Blood. Quite a few artists have covered your songs and again watching Sight & Sound I thought it would be great to hear the Rolling Stones do Gypsy Blood.
GP: Quite a few people could do it, yeah. I’ve always wished there were more cover versions but there again, there are a lot of people, musicians, song writers and they heard me in ’77, Stick To Me which is probably not the best thing to start with but it is fast and ramped up a bit and their impression of me is all New York Shuffle (sings up-tempo New York Shuffle beat) and they don’t get that the songs are there. That’s kind of a pity really.
Q: In time…
GP: Yeah well it’s started. The critics in America have been exposed to all my 80’s and 90’s albums and they know about the stuff from Mona Lisa’s Sister like Blue Highways and Back In Time – really beautiful songs – and there’s been many like that over the years that because of the poor distribution of my records, perhaps in the UK, they are still in this ‘Graham-New York Shuffle!’ frame of mind but I don’t write the script (laughs)
Q: You were scathing of Mercury Records and their promotion and the reviews in the states for Parkerilla were not good; what went wrong at Mercury because you voted New Artist of the Year in 1977 by Rolling Stone? How did they fuck that up?
GP: It was 1976 and we were signed to Vertigo Phonogram. We did the Live At Marble Arch album and the executives came from America to watch us and Dave Robinson convinced Mercury to sign us. They were the American arm and unfortunately, they did. They were in that ‘70s period where the music was Boston and Journey and they had the back catalogue of Elvis and Rod Stewart or whatever it was and there was no market for them to hang us on. There was no New Wave or Punk, it wasn’t singer/song writer, there was no category, the public didn’t have a category but Griel Marcus did and Rolling Stone followed us around but they couldn’t do anything with us because there was no audience. We went and played there in ’76 and there was no audience or category. We needed to come a year later and be called New Wave and Angry Young Man and it would have worked better.
GP: I know. We were opening for Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee and Freddie King and then we would be on a bill with Kansas and Styx and Heart. That’s what we were doing and then even in ’79 by which time we were with Arista and they were saying ‘We’ve got to break them in the mid-west! Put them on tour with Journey!’ We did fucking gigs with Journey…and Lynard Skynard! You’ve got fourteen thousand people shouting ‘Fuck off English faggots!’ and that was it, we were lost, we always fell into the wrong hole, continually so even fans don’t realise I’m a great songwriter. What a joke! I mean, that’s why I was cast in the Judd Apatow movie. I’m the kind of guy who brings a record company down because they can’t sell me. (laughs)
Q: Your latest album, Three Chords Good has a lovely old school production: what was your brief to Dave Cook before recording commenced?
GP: I’ve worked with him on a few things so I know what he does. He’s co-producer but he’s really a straight up engineer. He is not going to say ‘Ok, we’ve got to do something different with these guys – let’s make a hit’, there was none of that, it was just recording a band. That was all I said to him. I have a war cry with him which is ‘Don’t bother me with details, just press record’.
Q: Did you record as a band then?
GP: Yes. We recorded live and there was the usual thing where Brinsley had to redo something but there was a lot of live stuff. All the vocals are live apart from A Lie Gets Half Way ‘Round The World where I dropped in some verses becuase I couldn’t sing it and play it at the same time. So that was what we did, recorded as a band and I’ve been doing that since Mona Lisa’s Sister really. Recent albums before Three Chords Good it’s been me and the drummer but this obviously is The Rumour so it we were going to record as a band and get the feeling of it. Dave Cook loves to do that – very simple.
Q: Digital or analogue?
GP: We did it digital.
Q: Well you captured an analogue sound through a digital process.
GP: Yeah I know. It’s very hard to go back because for one thing, the budget is going to get cranked up big time with tape and nowadays you can do it: you can analogue it and Dave knows the studio. I’ve done things in there with him before. It’s a big old church and he knows how to do it.
Q: Where did you do it?
GP: Dreamland in Hurley upstate New York. It’s not a stretch now to make an analogue sound with digital. The sound can still go through the old processors. The old gear is still there, people still use it. I can feel it, it feels different and it feels digital because it ends up on a CD. Whatever you’re doing, even if it’s tape, it ends up digital unless you purely press on a record so for me there is no point in going back to tape and rewind and do this (mimes shuffling two reels back and forth) to find the point where you are dropping in. You don’t need to do that. You can use all the advantages of digital and still sound like an old band.
Q: What was the first song you performed when you got back together in rehearsals?
GP: We went straight into Snake Oil Capital. Before I rehearsed with the band I went to New York to rehearse with Steve Goulding: just me and the drums in a small rehearsal room. It was to get grooves and it simplified everything. We did a day of that and then the band came two days before going into the studio. The first day we had no Bob Andrews and no drums so we just sat around and played. It was a bit messy but we were getting the feel for it and I had confidence. Everyone had the attitude that they were not going to over-play. It wasn’t going to be about them. It was going to be about us and it was going to be about the songs because everybody knew that as our career went on, there was a lot of over-playing going on. The next day everyone came and it was very rushed because with the expense of bringing everyone together, you just don’t have the time you want and the next day we were in the studio. Everything was on the fly and Brinsley said to me the other day ‘When we do another album – (which we will do) – maybe we should do the same thing where I fly in and I haven’t learnt the songs properly and I’m just making up a lot of things.’ Brinsley is a parts man. He likes to have the parts down tight but he said the album is great. ‘I’m doing all of this great stuff and I’m doing it on the fly a lot of it.’ I said ‘You can do that now’ because it’s years later and anyone can just sit in and play with anyone now like old Jazz musicians. That’s what we should bring to the table every time. It’s a good organic process.
Q: Have you had any backlash about the lyrics to Arlington’s Busy?
GP: Bob was a little bit weird about that. He said he knew some people who were in the military who might…you know….but I read the book about Pat Tillman and he was the guy who was thought of as the ultimate American and people latched onto as a big conservative but he wasn’t, he was an atheist. He thought Iraq was a crock of shit. He thought going to Afghanistan was a good thing because that’s where the training camps for Al Qaeda were so the book made him a very complicated man. It was a covered up affair and his parents were livid, destroyed by what the U.S. government did and I thought the song is a pro-troop song. If the people take it wrong, that’s their problem: they are not listening and I can’t judge these things. To me, it’s a beautiful melody, a beautiful song and I was deeply affected by how a lot of the military got screwed over by the Bush administration and indeed the world and the American public. Of course you have to look at the American public being stupid enough to go along with it but by the end of their P.R. campain there was some figure of like 70% thought that Saddam Hussein, Iraq, Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden were all pretty much the same thing and I’m sorry if people are offended then but they haven’t learnt anything but it’s a pro-troop song.
Q: You live in America now.
GP: I’ve been based there. Basically my life has been back and forth for the last ten years but I’ve been basically there. It’s just been a case of when you are older, you don’t see ten years flying by. Where did they go? Now I’m concentrating on Europe, England, Japan and I’m living in London for a bit now.
Q: Coathangers is a very British thing; how was it received?
GP: Some people didn’t understand it. What do Coathangers mean? Well it’s symbolic of an old method of abortion which will come back if it is made illegal. That’s my opinion anyway.
Q: Quite horrific when you think this was only fifty years ago isn’t it?
GP: Oh yeah. It’s basically about the absurd push by the republicans that I got uptight about and the angry man came out and I wrote song. There was a lot of flak from pretty high-end right wing sites. Some of them were fans, conservative fans because they think I am an independent ‘fuck you’ kind of guy and they like that and one of them said ‘I’m not going to buy any more Graham Parker albums. He keeps making things about republicans and religion and this is a small, narrow-minded idea he has about republicans’.’ and I thought ‘Well it’s not.’ This is the whole onus of their attack on Obama as if he is responsible for abortion madness. Everyone is having abortions and is on the pill is in insurance as if he invented it! The reaction is that he is a black socialist from Kenya so we will attack abortion and that made me think. The song just popped out.
Q: Long Emotional Ride seems like a looking back or a re-thinking of yourself.
GP: Well that came out because before the documentary was finished, we thought it was finished but I hadn’t reformed The Rumour and I said to the documentary crew that I never will – forget it but they kept saying ‘Can we have one gig with The Rumour?’ I told them you can’t have one gig. It would cost $15,000 and you’ll pay us $5,000, we can’t do it. So we thought the documentary was finished and we had a screening in New York. Bob Andrews came to it and Martin came and all these people who had put in lots of money to kick start it and I was very moved by this. It was in October 2010 I think and was very very moved and I wrote that song. It felt like a long emotional ride and I really didn’t think people cared about me that much. I mean, some people put $15,000 in! Lee Brilleaux’s wife – who I had never met – she came with her new husband and put in a bunch of money…she cared about me and getting the documentary made and all these people and it really meant something to me and that song just popped out, very heartfelt. The next thing I know, I’ve written all these songs and I’m emailing The Rumour. Fucking hell!
Q: I mentioned to you that Fool’s Gold was always my favourite song of yours but that’s before I heard The Last Bookstore In Town. I argued with an idiot the other day who was saying we didn’t need books anymore and I asked said ‘If you meet the author of your favourite book, are you going to ask him to autograph your Kindle?
GP: (laughs) Yeah. I collect books and I read a Kindle as well because it is light on a plane.
Q: So where did those lyrics come from?
GP: I really don’t know. Again, it’s about ignorance really. There are lines in there about ‘a lot of learned fellows want to bury it in the ground’ (laughs). It’s more about that than actual books I think. It’s about the death of education and intelligence.
Q: You could easily do a follow up about the death of the CD store.
GP: Yeah I wrote a song a few years ago about songs of no consequence called There’s Nothing On The Radio. It’s just one of those songs that writes itself. Once you’ve got the idea of it, of the ignorance and the stupidity and all that, it’s just fun to write.
Q: Mr Parker, thank you very much.
GP: Thank you.