1st August 2016
Bill Sharpe & Jill Saward
Q: Welcome back…how many times is this you’ve been here (Japan?)
BS: This is number forty-two. Sometimes we come twice a year which is amazing.
Q: Can you give is a quick update on the new album?
JS: It’s out now here in Japan and that’s album number thirty-seven.
Q: You have now released thirty-seven albums in your thirty-six years. I can’t think of many – if any - other bands that are that prolific: where does it all come from?
BS: There’s more out because back in the eighties we did the earlier albums which were more instrumental but then in the late eighties we started to do more Pop/Rock albums for Europe but Polydor in Japan asked for more of the instrumental stuff so basically, we started making two albums a year. We were in the studio a lot because we were off the road for two or three years as our guitarist, Keith Winter, was sick and had stopped playing so we just used that time in the studio so that’s kind of how we got so many records out. Now though we do one about every two years.
Q: Having a lot of song writers in the band helps as well I guess.
JS: Yes. All of us write and it works fine. Sometimes we combine and do different things with different people.
Q: Does all of your material get recorded?
BS: No. I’d say on this album we’ve used half the songs; we try and pick the best ones.
Q: So is there a Shakatak vault somewhere waiting to be raided one day?
JS: It’s heaving!
BS: Everybody’s got one really haven’t they?
JS: Of course problems arise at gigs like this when putting a set together because there are so many songs and so many albums and it’s only a seventy=five minute set.
Q: So how do you choose?
BS: There are certain songs people want to hear and then tonight, because we are doing two separate shows, we can do about four songs from the new album over the two shows. You can do a couple but people want to hear what they grew up with. It’s like going to see Paul McCartney and he doesn’t play any Beatles songs.
Q: Some of those albums are only available in Japan: how and when did the remarkable affinity you have with this country start?
JS: It is a strange thing…
BS: We were touring around the UK and the Night Birds album came out and then in early 1983, our manager said we might be having a little tour of Japan and we had no idea what was going on here so we thought it would be pretty cool. We got out here without any pre-knowledge and the album had gone ballistic! We did seven shows in Tokyo sold out and it was a bit like Beatlemania with people following us down the street and this particular Night Birds song, still, when we play it now, thirty-five years later, that’s the song everybody loves to hear so it’s that song that created the affinity. Of course we come here a lot and we’ve now got lots of friends here so it’s just a great place to come.
Back in the past…
Q: Bill…Bill and Gary Numan seemed a little bit of an unlikely combination but Bill and Fast Eddie Clarke seemed out of this world. How did that come about?
BS: We share the same business manager. He looks after a lot of Heavy Rock/Metal people like Ozzy Osbourne and he has little parties and I met Eddie at one of them and we just hit it off. Eddie’s a real character, a bit up and down but that’s because as he says it was the abuse all those years ago but anyway we chatted away, became friends and said ‘How do fancy making an album?’ So he came over a few times, we started writing it just sort of came together. At the time he wanted someone else to sing the songs because he’s not a singer but as I was the producer he asked me what I thought and I said it would be good if he sang it. It was him, about his life and if you listen to it he has a good old moan about some things in the lyrics. He could have got someone like Ian Gillan to sing it which would have worked for him but for me it wouldn’t because it was just Eddie. It took a while to make it and it didn’t sell massive but it was great experience. It was a Blues album really. He’s a great Blues guitarist and hopefully it showcases that. He’s got pedigree, he knows a lot of history and knows a lot about people.
JS: Great backing vocals on that album. (laughs)
BS: Oh yes Jill did the backing vocals. You know when I was growing up, I listened to Rock music, Jill listened to Rock music, we got onto Jazz a bit late so we do have roots in Rock.
Q: Jill…I’m a bit of a Glam Rock fan and you sang Children of the Revolution on a Marc Bolan tribute record. May I ask why you chose that particular track?
JS: I didn’t choose it. Once again that was connections within the music industry. Our friend and producer Nick Smith was doing some work and putting together the tribute thing with some good musicians and said ‘Do you fancy it?’ I had never thought about singing in that way and then when he gave me the tracks I thought ‘Yes, this’ll work’. It was being in the right place at the right time but it does get a lot of interest.
Q: Jill…Ooh Ya is the only record I ever found of Brandy and its Dutch; were there any others?
JS: No, that was it, the Ken Gold thing, just one single. It was one of those things where we knew nothing. We signed to Polydor and that was it. Good song though; Kathy Feeney wrote it and she’s still out and about in a band called Never The Bride. Great band.
Q: I was and still am a big Motorhead fan. Also Shakatak, a Sex Pistols fan, Deep Purple, Showaddywaddy, Bay City Rollers, etc, as many of us who grew up through the seventies and eighties were. Do you find, like I do, that fans are a lot less diverse these days?
BS: I find there is no diversity. That might be because I’m not listening to so much music but for me, in those days, it really was incredible diversity. I listen to a lot of Pop stuff and too me sound different.
JS: There’s more choice though because of the internet. My sons are listening to every spectrum of music whereas in the past you had to go and buy an album to listen to it. I look at my son’s repertoire and it’s Zappa to Little Mix – wooagh! It really spans the genres.
BS: (to Jill) Perhaps it like Sky though. You know, you’ve got 900 channels but you probably watch twenty. Some of it to me sounds…it’s the Auto-Tune especially on a lot of Dance that drives me absolutely mad.
JS: (to Bill) Oh yeah easily, that (mimics Auto-Tune vocal to Dark Is The Night)
Q: You do a good Auto-Tune Jill.
JS & BS: (laugh)
Now and Then
Q: Many of your ‘80’s peers had fallen by the wayside at the end of the decade whereas you just kept going. To what do you attribute your ongoing popularity?
JS: I don’t know. We never socialize outside of the band and when we are together the four of us have a great set-up. Everyone knows their place and everyone knows what to do so it kind of just tumbles along and we all respect each other.
BS: With the fans as well, I think it’s always worth spending time with them. Especially at gigs you make sure you meet them and we enjoy doing it anyway. In Japan, a lot of our fans have become friends so we don’t just have a chat, we go out for a drink with them after the show. They spend a fair old chunk of money to come to these clubs and see us and I don’t think it’s anything for us to spend twenty or thirty minutes of our time just to talk to them and people really appreciate that. Hopefully the fact that we are still making records and like to hang out with the fans that will keep it going longer. It is what we do and I couldn’t do anything else.
BS: I’ve got no plans to retire. I know so many people who look forward to retirement but if you’re in the music business or in some way connected…
JS: …you just can’t.
Q: I don’t know any musician who has ever truly retired do you?
BS: Unless you have to like for health reasons. If Keith Richards can keep going we can all keep going.
Q: The music business has changed beyond recognition since your debut in August 1980. What are your reflections on the business back then, your opinions of the business now and where you see it going in the future?
JS: Certainly for us it’s quite different from when we started but I actually think it’s going in a positive way. If I was a new artist starting now, it’d be fantastic. All the outlets, you have the technology to make a song sound really good instead of just singing and playing a piano onto a cassette but that of course gives you more competition.
BS: I completely disagree with Jill.
JS: Yeah we go back and forth on this. I think it’s going the right way.
BS: I think it’s killing it all.
BS: Spotify should be banned.
JS: (to Bill) Oh I agree with that!
BS: I had lunch with our publishers today and thankfully, Japan is Spotify free so they still have Tower Records and people buy CDs so as a musician, you can make a living whereas people pay £10 for Spotify or whatever it is and you get your Spotify statement and you get 53 pence for 20 million hits.
Q: It’s really that bad?
BS: YouTube, ten million plays you might get £100 if that so from a business point of view, it’s killing it. I know there is all the potential and the internet is an amazing thing but I disagree. How do they make a living?
JS: (to Bill) But we probably wouldn’t have the attendance we do in a place like this without the internet so it’s keeping us on the road.
BS: (to Jill) Yes but it’s Facebook and Twitter that keeps it going, not Spotify. The record companies own 10% of Spotify anyway…
JS: We’re always going to be shafted no matter what happens.
Q: Well you’re still here and you’re still making a good living so that can only be a good thing, let’s move on. Everyone who has been on the road as long as you have has both their most memorable their biggest nightmare gigs. What are yours?
JS: We’ve had some monumental gigs. As Bill was saying, the first gig in Japan, we didn’t know about any of the response we were going to get. We went onto the stage and there was a huge canvas safety curtain, we couldn’t hear anything and it was deathly quite so we thought it was going to be a disaster but then the safety curtain went up and the roar of the audience was breathtaking.
BS: Another great one was that we were the first band to play in South Africa after apartheid ended in 1993. We did seven shows in a theatre in Capetown and at the first one, we literally couldn’t start playing for five minutes because they wouldn’t stop clapping. We were doing the joke like looking to see who was behind us – who are they clapping for – and it was just extraordinary. Particularly Capetown loved our music and they listened to it through the eighties.
Q: That must have brought a tear to the eye.
JS: It did actually, yes.
BS: I’m trying to think of one of the worst…we had an interesting gig in the early days in Rhyl in North Wales…
JS: Oh God! (laughs)
BS: …where two people came to the show. We played two songs and though ‘This is ridiculous, let’s have a drink at the bar with the two people’ so we just stopped playing (laughs). It wasn’t a great gig but it was a great night.
JS: I remember one of the worst gigs; New Year’s Eve in Russia. It was a private party (to Bill) do you remember?
BS: No I probably had too much vodka. (smiles)
JS: People just had no interest. They were extremely wealthy, a private party in a club, no interest in the band whatsoever, they arrogant, they were rude, it was just awful. I think George insulted the audience which didn’t help and they served us up a pig on a plate to our Jewish guitarist. We were drunk, really pissed at that one. (laughs)
Q: Russia, Lithuania, Serbia…you travel around a lot.
BS: Bulgaria, maybe Mexico City, Dubai, Holland Germany…you know, we are so lucky really aren’t we? After all this time, getting paid for doing something you love doing.
Q: Well it’s great to see you back I must say. Jill and Bill, thank you very much.
BS: It’s been a pleasure.
JS: Thank you.