jeudi 8 mai 2014

The Wyrd Things

Have you ever heard of this band ? The Wyrd Things have been buried by the time and many music lovers simply never knew about them. How come ? One might say that with such legendary musicians as Nasty Suicide, Dave Tregunna and Terry Chimes on the ship it's quite unlikely but the lack of studio recordings is -at least partially- the answer.

After the demise of The Cherry Bombz the aforementioned lads teamed up with James Vane and Cliff 'Skeats' Gravelle to form the band. They played all over the UK between 1986 and 1987, even came with the song Devil calling, later recorded by the likes of Kill City Dragons, Cheap and Nasty or Shooting Gallery, but failed to leave any material except the 4 live videos that have resurfaced on YouTube a few years ago.
And since you could barely find anything on the web about them I'll try to reveal some music history all along the interview I have conducted with Cliff Gravelle.

For a start, can you tell me more about Penknife Glides, the band you were in before The Wyrd Things ?
I was born in London and emigrated to NZ when I was 6. In 78' I founded a post punk band called Primmers who landed a couple of songs on what is now an infamous compilation NZ punk album called AK79. When we disbanded in 1980 I got Penknife Glides together in NZ and eventually relocated them to London in 82'. PKG played with loads of bands in New Zealand and London over the course of a 4 year career playing outdoor festivals and support tours with bands like INXS, Police, Cure, Birthday Party and Echo And The Bunnymen.

What were the events that lead you to met James Vane ?
By 1985 I found myself in London without a band so a friend of mine put me in touch with James Vane. James had just come out of a band called Ring of Roses and originally came from Chelmsford where word had it that he'd done some recording with Mike Oldfield.
I went down to Alice In Wonderland (a Goth club in Soho) and saw him fronting a string quartet playing a bunch of psychedelic songs. Sounds kinda weird I know but I've got to say I was pretty blown away. He had a great stage presence standing well over 6'3” tall in leather patchwork trousers. You couldn't deny the guy had a massive pair of lungs on him. I've still got a recording of that gig on cassette somewhere.

At the beginning you worked as a duo for several months. Was it deliberate or  couldn't you find the proper musicians to play with you ?
We wanted to get some songs together first before we started looking for anyone else and I guess we were sounding each other out at the same time. That would have been in the summer of 1985. I seem to remember loads of drinking sessions in The Prince Edward in Hereford St Ladbroke Grove where we hatched many a plan for world domination. We must have spent at least 6 months banging out song ideas in Jim's basement flat down the road before we hooked up with the other guys. During that time we were just working acoustically so the songs had a more Walker Brothers vibe. I remember we did a gig at the Scala in Kings Cross with the string quartet before we met up with the other guys.
Here's one of the tracks James and I wrote during that period : October rain
I recorded this version last year with another singer and although Wyrd Things never got around to playing October Rain we did pinch the intro for 'A Feeling'.

Did you already find the band name at this point ?
No that happened later once the whole band came together and were about to embark on our first gig.

How did you meet Nasty Suicide, Dave Tregunna and Terry Chimes, the rhythm section from The Cherry Bombz ?
I think that was the same friend again. He either knew Richard Bishop the Cherry Bombz manager or Dave Tregunna. Either way, we arranged a meeting at Richard's Office just off Oxford St. Nasty, Dave and Terry were looking for a frontman and 2nd guitar player after the Cherry Bombz had split and we were looking for a rhythm section so it seemed like a nice fit.

Was the chemistry there instantly or did it take time to get things happenening ?
That first meet was a strange one. We all looked like we'd just jumped out of the same box so it really just came down to how the music was going to fit together. I know Nasty had been writing new material and was keen to get things moving with a band and so were we, so it was really a done deal before any of us had even picked up our instruments.

How long did you rehearse before the first gig of the band ?
We had some pretty intensive rehearsals before the first Kings Cross gig. We all wanted to get things sounding right. Nasty, Dave and Terry had no problems putting the Rock we desperately needed into our Roll. All of a sudden those acoustic riffs James and I had been working on just took off. They sure benefited from a loud kick up the arse and the boys delivered on that score.

Did you perform only original material or also play some covers ?
No we were doing pretty much all original stuff except I think for Spiritual Sky which was a Ring Of Roses track James brought to the party.

What was the writing process ?
Even though we all brought finished songs, bits of songs or just riffs into rehearsals The Wyrd Things jammed everything out from the get go, so by the time we'd finished each song everyone had contributed something.
We spent a lot of time writing in Nasty's house in North London but James would always wait until the music was almost complete before he'd add any vocals. He was real particular about how he wanted the music to sound. He didnt want it sounding like straight out Rock n Roll, it had to come from the ground up and carry a vibe that made a connection. He was always looking for something a bit more psychedelic or trippy, something he was sure he could confidently hang his lyrics on.

How would you describe the band sound ?
Well, Nasty, Dave and Terry were the engine room no doubt about that. I was the guy rapping melody lines around Nasty's riffs sweetening things up and Jim would just take it anywhere he wanted on the night. In retrospect that was the real exciting thing about The Wyrd Things. We all just relied on loads of eye contact. We had a few signals and if Jim was on a roll those songs could just take off and fly. We'd all have to go with him. He'd make up new verses, sing lyrics we'd never heard before or just drop it down real quiet. It was always tettering on the edge but man when we pulled it off it was euphoric. I guess I'd describe the sound as Mogadon Rock cos' instead of tearing it up, we slowed things down but kept the intensity.

The song Devil Calling, which has been recorded by Kill City Dragons, Cheap and Nasty, Shooting Gallery..., was originally written by Dave and Nasty for The Wyrd Things. What are your recollection of this song ? Was your version of the song different of the ones we know ?
I remember we were rehearsing off Grays Inn Rd one afternoon and the guys from Melrose, a Finnish Rockabilly band dropped in. They wanted to do an interview with us and asked if they could record some of our music while they were there. We heard sometime later that they'd recorded Devil Calling themselves and released it in Finland so I guess that was the first time that track was covered. All the versions though are pretty much how we played it but it seems kind of ironic now looking back that other bands covered it and we never got to record it ourselves.

How many songs have been written and did you, or other members, ever use some of them in another bands since ?
I wish I still had a set list somewhere but from memory I think we were gigging with about 8 or 10 songs. Dave and Nasty obviously played Devil Calling in various bands and I recorded Soul Injection again in 2013 which was another track James and I had brought with us from the Hereford St days.

During the short life of the band you played quite a lot in the UK. What kind of venues did you play and were you on tour as a support act or as headliner ?
We were pretty much a support band most of the time. Richard was getting some great gigs for us up and down the country with bands like Fields Of The Nephilim. That suited us just fine cos' we soon discovered we had a readymade audience from day one.

What kind of experience was it for the audience to catch The Wyrd Things live ?
If we played London there was always the Alice in Wonderland crowd that followed us around and then we'd obviously pull in the Hanoi and Lords fans as well so there were plenty of theatrics on and off stage. We had a great sound and light man with us so we always tried to create a trippy mix of pulsing lights behind Terry's drums and bloody loud everything else. That doesn't really come across in the live footage of The Wyrd Things but it was certainly there by the bucket load in the flesh.

Did you get any press exposure ?
No definitely not. We didnt stick together long enough.

How come you never hit the studio to record at least demo versions of the songs ?
That was a real shame I know, but the essence of the band at the time was playing live. There was never any mention of recording anything really. Certainly not until we'd nailed a live set we were all happy with.

What were your plans to develop the band ?
We were more experimental than perhaps Hanoi or Cherry Bombz fans were expecting. Certainly much slower and less rocky perhaps with fewer guitar solos. We were looking for more of a chug or a solid groove we could lock into and then let James do his thing over the top. In that respect it was a lot more Doors sounding. Jim had that imposing undeniable Jim Morrison thing going on up front.
I certainly had grandiose visions of maybe playing some keyboards further down the line and James discussed incorporating strings into the live set on occasions. That may have set the cat amongst the pigeons with Nasty who I know was keen to keep it stripped back and raw but I could see the band evolving over time in all sorts of directions.

After a year and a half the band disbanded. What happened ?
Like I said the band was always pulling in two directions from the start but that's what I really dug about it. One element was pure Rock n Roll and the other was more Nick Cave meets The Doors. We knew that crossover had huge potential but we just couldn’t reign it in so there were plenty of volatile disagreements along the way.

Did you keep in touch with the former members ?
After The Wyrd Things split Dave, Jim and I spent 6 months writing new material and working on some orchestral arrangements with the intention of doing some Walker Brothers type gigs but nothing really eventuated.
Dave, Terry and I also recorded some new tracks with a chick from L.A. Her outfit was called Crash Club. We had Nicky Tesco from The Members producing and filmed a video for Musicbox. When Terry left we brought in Danny Fury to cover for the live gigs.

I hooked up with Dave again in 2007 and saw him a few times in The Brian James Gang. I spoke to James a few months back after discovering he was living in Glastonbury. It seems everyone's still making music which is reassuring.

In 2008 you've put 4 live videos on Youtube. Why ?
I was moving house and found a VHS tape in a suitcase of that particular gig filmed in East London. I think Nasty's girlfriend took the original footage. I also came across some rehearsal cassette tapes of The Wyrd Things. It seemed a shame not to share them on the internet and explain some of the history so people could join the dots. I wanted to fill in a few gaps from my own musical background as well, so although the footage had deteriorated somewhat I managed to get most of it copied onto disc for posterity.

At some point a DVD was available from you. Did it only contains those 4 songs or there's more footage ?
There was just the 4 tracks that made it onto the DVD, although 2 more songs were on the original VHS tape. Unfortunately the quality was pretty poor so they didn't make the final cut.

In retrospect, what do you think of The Wyrd Things ?
With such a great lineup the band had real potential. Everyone was at the peak of their careers and James was a real find. That period was just before quite a few UK bands like us broke through into the big time. I know Richard Bishop was keen to take the band to the States at some stage too. But James was always the character, the unknown quantity. He was the Ozzy in the band that's for sure.

Thank you Cliff for taking the time to discuss about the band with me and share some rock history. Cheers !
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