Less that a week after our interview with one C86 alumnus in The Wedding Present’s David Gedge, another of the bands on that hallowed cassette (ask your parents kids!) has come to our attention.
The latest in our growing line of 2016 comeback stars (see also Khartomb and The Vapors) Mighty Mighty have just released their first new music in 28 years.
Formed in Birmingham in the mid-80’s, Mighty Mighty are almost exact contemporaries of The Weddoes.
But while Gedge has continued to release new material, the Mighties have been largely dormant since 1988 – the year they released their debut album Sharks.
The turn of the century saw a revival of interest in the band, which comprises Hugh McGuinness (vocals and harmonica), Russell Burton (bass and vocals), brothers Mick (guitar) and Pete (organ and guitar) Geoghegan and DJ Hennessy (drums).
A 2000 re-issue of Sharks was quickly followed by a compilation of BBC sessions and in 2009 the band re-united for sporadic live gigs.
So-called ‘lost’ second album The Betamax Tapes preceded a full retrospective Pop Can in 2013.
Now, following a successful gig at London’s 100 Club earlier this year the band have released the Misheard Love Songs EP, featuring three brand new tracks.
Songsmith Mick, aided by contributions from DJ and soul of brevity Russell, tells Matt Catchpole about the comeback, being hated by the music press and key influences on the Mighty Mighty sound.
So the obvious question – why are you back with your first new music in 28 years?
Mick: A combination of things really. I found I was becoming more prolific as a songwriter – probably more time on my hands – and wanted to do something with the songs. We have played the odd few gigs over the years since we ‘split up’ in 1988 but we got to the point where we didn’t want to be a Mighty Mighty tribute band and needed to add to the set. We’ve really enjoyed the creative process. I forgot how much more fun it is than just rehearsing a set of songs you’ve been playing for years. It’s a very slow process though as we are scattered cross the country and have family and work commitments.
Did you feel you had unfinished business as a group?
DJ: Always felt we could have done more and gone further, but relationships and families just put it all on hold for a while
Mick: We’ve still got some great songs in us. Hopefully someone is interested in hearing them. I know there are people out there who will always be interested in what we are doing – and that’s great – but it would also be nice to connect with people who missed us first time round (or who weren’t born!)
What have you all been doing in the meantime? Does it feel any different this time around?
DJ: Working, raising kids, etc (In my case, submitting to my alcoholism for many years) Think we’re just a bit calmer, mellower at times. Still get on pretty well most of the time
Mick: I think it is a bit more relaxed. I suppose it’s about expectations. Back in the ’80s we wanted to be pop stars. I suppose it’s that sense of possibility that makes it so exciting and unforgettable. That’s not there now. But I still get a real buzz when a new song suddenly falls into place. And playing live makes you feel young again – until the morning after when the aches and pains kick in!
You’re a five piece with two brothers in the band – any Gallagher-style shenanigans?
Russell: No – they even on agree on how to spell their surname.
Mick: That’s right. Quite boring really. If one of us was the front man it might have been different, but I don’t think we are particularly competitive with each other. There’s quite a big age difference so we weren’t competing growing up. We have roles in the band – I feel responsible for coming up with songs and Pete is a proper musician, so he sprinkles on the magic dust to bring them to life.
Your song “>Law was chosen to as a track on the NME’s now legendary C86 compilation – how did that come about?
Mick: We self-financed our first single “>Everybody Knows The Monkey. Peel played it and it got a good review in NME. Roy Carr from the NME got in touch. I think they wanted to put Monkey on C86 but we wanted to record something new. Had a day out in London with the tape in our sweaty little hands. We were aware that this was a big deal because I had got C81 from the NME and really loved it. It was much better than C86. What a line-up – The Specials, The Raincoats, Pere Ubu, Robert Wyatt, Buzzcocks, John Cooper Clarke, Blue Orchids, all the Postcard bands … Just the idea that your song was going to be in so many homes was pretty mind-blowing. C86 was massive leg up for us at the time and has continued to sustain us.
Were there any bands on that tape that you thought would go on to greater things and didn’t. Any that you were surprised were so successful?
DJ: (scathingly) Thought Primal Scream might come to something, but they went to shit. Think they’re still going as a Stones tribute band.
Mick: At the time I couldn’t see much potential and I suppose, in a sense, I was right as most of the bands never really left the indie ghetto. But a lot of the bands are still about and doing their thing, which is great. My favourite tracks were “>Therese by The Bodines and “>Buffalo by Stump. I suppose “>Velocity Girl was the stand-out track – probably the one and only thing by Primal Scream that I like!
Do you think the indie scene is as strong today as it was back in the ’80s?
DJ: There’s an Indie scene today?
Mick: If my record collection is anything to go by, the scene wasn’t that strong back then. I have a handful of 45s that I treasure from that era, but a lot of it washed over me. I know it’s all been said before, but what was great about it was the DIY thing – the attitude was: ‘it’s our turn now and it doesn’t matter if record companies aren’t interested, we’re going to be heard.’ Where now it’s so easy to get your music out there, it’s sometimes difficult to understand how radical this was. We didn’t feel radical – we wanted to make a record and other people had shown us the way. Sorry to say there is very little indie music today that interests me. You can’t really compare then with now. We were coming off the back of punk and post-punk and all the fresh ideas and impetus that came with that.
Was it tough to make a living as a musician in those days? Did that play any part in your decision to split after just one album?
DJ: Don’t think we’ve ever made a living from it, or ever will. Just try to enjoy it – for me it’s about having fun with a bunch of blokes who come up with great songs and ever improving musicianship.
Mick: Yeah. Not sure money ever came into it. As long as we had enough to keep on doing what we were doing. So when we found ourselves without a deal, it did become difficult to carry on.
The scene was buoyed by the existence of several music papers, NME, Sounds, Melody Maker, Record Mirror etc – are you sad that these papers have died out or gone on online?
DJ: I thought they were all pretty naff – obsessed with “the next big thing” – look at their legacy – Tony Parsons and Tony Backburn, soz, Danny Baker
Mick: The music press hated us. The C86 bands and British white kids playing guitars were dropped very quickly – they didn’t fit with their sudden conversion to dance culture. And back then the likes of NME were the taste-makers. As much as I loved reading NME in its pomp, I can’t feel any sadness for its decline because it was ultimately elitist and bordering on fascist in the way it dictated what was and wasn’t cool.
You’re from Birmingham – what was it like growing up there – was there always a lively music scene?
Mick: There was a brilliant period just before I started playing – with the 2 Tone bands, Dexy’s and the Au Pairs. I feel really lucky to have been living in Brum at that time. When we first started gigging we had some great contemporaries like Fuzzbox, The Nightingales, The Surfdrums and Sea Urchins.
DJ: It was brilliant. It was shit. OK, brilliantly shit.
I went to university in Birmingham in the early ‘90s and was a regular at Sensateria, the Barrel Organ and the Hummingbird to name but a few. Where did you hang out and was there any particular gig that made you think: ‘ yep that’s what I want to do’.
Russell: T. Rex – TOTP – 1972
DJ: Probably Stiff Little Fingers at Digbeth Civic Hall, ’78 I think.
Mick: I was there too! SLF were brilliant. Pretty scary though, with punks and skinheads kicking lumps out of each other. I’m old enough (luckily, for a change) to remember Barbarella’s and all the punk and new wave acts that played there – The Clash, Siouxsie, Costello, The Undertones, Iggy, The Specials. It was probably witnessing them that made me think I could do that. Later the Sensateria was an important hang-out for would-be bands – Mighty Mighty, Pop Will Eat Itself, the Sea Urchins, etc.
Did you experience any London snobbishness when you played in the capital?
Russell: No – a lot of non-clappingness though
DJ: We’d probably get a better response if we were into dressing up more.
The Velvet Underground and Nico is 50 years old this year – were you one of the legions inspired by that record?
DJ: Just one of many, preferred a lot of Lou’s older stuff
Mick: I taught myself to play bass in my first band by listening to the Au Pairs. When I was learning guitar it was listening to the Velvets, so yes, a major influence. I think the rough and ready quality appealed to me – you didn’t have to sound every chord perfectly or in time to make brilliant music (I’m still using that excuse!)
And while we’re talking anniversaries – it’s 40 years since the birth of punk – having recently played the 100 Club – do you think it’s time we had another rock revolution? Can such a movement even happen in this day and age?
DJ: It needs something from today’s generation – I don’t get anything out of the new stuff I hear – either overproduced and mundane songs, or that grimy shouting stuff –showing my age; old blues is where it’s at.
Mick: I don’t think rock has the power to shock anymore. It’s all been done to death. And the way people access music today means anything really extreme never reaches the mainstream – it’s all very niche. Since punk there have still been shock/horror press stories about how certain pop stars that are going corrupt the nation’s youth – such as the Beastie Boys and Eminem – but now there’s nothing more scary than Kanye West being a bit weird. Grime has already been defused by patronising TV coverage and the glossy magazine treatment, before it’s had a chance to really influence anyone. It seems impossible now for young people to genuinely have their own music like it was in the 50s, 60s and 70s. As soon as anything new comes along it gets appropriated by the parents!
Cherry Red released ‘Pop Can: The Definitive Collection 1986-88’ – it’s a pretty iconic label – do you wish you’d had a chance to sign with them back in the day?
Mick: I think I wore out my copy of Pillars & Prayers (1982 Cherry Red compilation). I was (still am) a big Tracey Thorn and Marine Girls fan. We did send them a demo in our very early days and it came back with a two word rejection: “Too us”. So probably by then they had already had enough of sensitive young souls.
The ‘80s was a bitterly divided country with a right-wing government, bitter divisions within the Labour Party and a seething undercurrent of racism – do you see any similarities with today?
DJ: Yes. democracy has clearly failed. Five years of Tories and everyone complains, then votes them in again. Brexit vote built on brazen lies – £350 p.w. to NHS – and Farage ripping off Nazi poster. Now we’ve got the most racist, sexist, narcistic psychotic idiot ever in the White House. Democracy clearly does not work.
Mick: Ditto. Didn’t someone say when the Berlin Wall came down that it was ‘the end of history’? At least during the Cold War there was a weird kind of stability. You felt that both sides had too much to lose to press the button. Now you have no idea where armageddon is likely to come from. As for Britain, I dread to think what sort of a country it will become post-Brexit. Democracy is sham used by the establishment to fool us into believing we have freedom of choice and can influence our future. Depressed. Embarrassed. Ashamed.
You’re often compared to Postcard bands, like Orange Juice – were you inspired by their success?
DJ: Could never see the comparison. Their drummer was shit hot though.
Mick: I’d be lying if I said they weren’t an influence. When me and Hugh first got together it was Postcard and the Velvets that we were mainly listening to. I still listen to Josef K a lot. And The Go-Betweens of course, even though they were only fleetingly on Postcard. I think to some extent the similarities in our sound to Orange Juice are about us having the same influences – the Velvets, a lot of ’60s pop, country rock and ’70s disco.
Who did you grow up listening to? And what do you enjoying playing now?
DJ: Grew up with Bowie, T Rex, Iggy ,punk ‘n’ reggae. Now – Trying to play Robert Johnson songs on a ukulele – what else?
Mick: T Rex were my first big love. I liked Dylan and Neil Young and some heavy rock (I still like Zeppelin). But it all changed with The Clash. These days I like a lot of American songwriters – Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams, Joanna Newsom, Jolie Holland.
Tell us about the Misheard Love Songs EP – can fans of the group expect any surprises?
DJ: Won’t be a surprise – fans can expect it.
Mick: Across the three songs there’s only one major 7th chord, so that’s a surprise. Still writing three and a half minute pop songs. And no harpsichords!
Will there be any live shows to promote the new stuff? I hear there could be a new album on the way?
DJ: Hope to finish album one day, and do a few gigs maybe, but they’d have to be worth it – everything takes so long cos we’re scattered all over the country.
Mick: Yes – we’re building up to an album, hopefully next year. We’ve got a growing pile of songs and we’re going to keep recording until we’ve got enough gems to fill an album. When we were writing back in 80s it was always important to come up with songs that could go into the live set. This isn’t an issue now so we may be able to get a bit more diverse and adventurous – ukulele solo, DJ?
We’ll just have to wait and see….
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