||Century 21 Boys
TV21 In The Twenty First Century
I suppose it's inevitable that it if you put enough
stuff up on the Net someone's going to read something about themselves and get back
to you about it. And that explains the genesis of this interview. My modest TV21 page was
somehow found by TV21 guitarist Ally Palmer and in acknowledging the site he managed to
get himself and singer/guitarist Norman Rodger roped into doing this e-mail interview.
I'm very grateful to Ally and Norman for giving me
something original to put up on the site and also to give a slight kick-start to
updating the site for the first time in months.
Anyhow the interview ranged all through TV21's
career and beyond. I started off by asking Norman and Ally about their independent days
when the band released 3 singles on 2 labels (see discography for details) to some
What do you remember about the time before and up to
the release of the third single?
Third single 'On The Run'
|Norman: Too much. (I
got this far into the answers and knew I was onto a good thing!) In a way that was
the best period, we were still full of expectation and, more importantly, still in total
control of what we were doing. You can't beat the thrill of hearing your record on
the radio for the first time, or of doing a Peel session. There were highlights after that
of course but really, once we'd signed to Deram, it was pretty much downhill all the way.
Ally: The memories are
still clear despite it now being over twenty years ago! When Norman and I get together we
often talk about that period. It was obviously important to us. It was something we had
both wanted to do since schooldays and although we never really hit the heights we thought
we might, the fact was we were in a band that released an LP and a bunch of singles.
The early singles were quite raw guitar driven songs but not long before the LP was
recorded the band brought in a trumpet player to broaden the sound.
Was this simply the done thing to do in the early
80s or were TV21 ahead of the game?
Norman: Bit of both really. I knew Dave from college where
we briefly formed a band call The Cunts - oddly enough we didn't get many gigs, so we
split up. At that stage Dave wanted to a singer, I didn't know he played trumpet until I
heard this racket - him trying to play the riff from the Rolling Stones "Bitch,"
- all the way through one of my final exams!
We bumped into each other on a bus in London
a couple of years later, just after we'd recruited Ali Paterson, and I invited him up to
Edinburgh to hang out for a few days. He initially just banged a tom-tom and other
percussion on stage and then, with all the other bands using trumpet we remembered that he
could play too (allegedly) so we started introducing that into a few songs. Dave's
trumpet playing was very touch and go, one night he'd be dreadful the next spot-on.
There's a great tape somewhere of him trying
to record the trumpet part for (I think) Snakes and Ladders - he was getting worse and
worse by the minute and we were all just falling about in the control telling him that he
was doing fine and to keep playing. Ideal Way of Life was another one, you just
never knew if he'd get it right - the version that was broadcast on Radio 1 In Concert was
just shocking and if you've ever seen the Whistle Test video you can see us all wishing
him not to fuck up on national TV - he didn't!
What were the live gigs like?
Norman: Hit and miss - some great, some awful. The worst
was in a college somewhere in darkest Yorkshire where all the guitars went out of a tune
within the first few songs, we all broke strings, including Neil's bass, and Colin's kept
bursting drum skins. I think in the end there was just me singing along to Colin's
bass drum. We sheepishly gave up after 6 songs, hid in the dressing room and got
very drunk. The good ones were at places like the Nite Club in Edinburgh just after
the album came out, a couple of the Marquee residency in summer 1981, Hammersmith Palais
supporting The Undertones and the second show at The Palace of Culture in Warsaw, the last
gig on our tour of Poland.
Ally: We never quite got it right. There was a period just before we signed when we grew
in confidence and started to really enjoy playing live, but not being a particularly good
musician I found it generally frustrating. The Marquee was a great experience as we
appeared to be building a loyal following which meant we fed off that enthusiasm.
Looking back the band garnered a lot of favourable press but failed to crack it to a wider
fan base. Were you big in Edinburgh? Or anywhere else? I remember seeing you in Glasgow at
Night Moves after the LP came out but it wasn't really that busy.
Norman: Night Moves - was that the one where I lost my voice?
(Now that you mention it, Norman, it was! I'd forgotten) Horrible experience.
For no apparent reason we had a wee jam in the dressing room before the show
singing old Stones songs and I knackered my throat in the process. Apologies to all
those who paid money to see us that night. As I remember from a review by the late Johnny
Waller in Sounds, we became the "biggest band in Edinburgh, by default," i.e.
all the rest had split up! Around November 1981 we were filing places like the Nite
Club (about 500 people) and we could fill places like The Marquee in London but that was
about as big as it got, in terms of our own pulling power.
The band's one LP was 'A Thin Red Line' released in the second half of 1981. The rawer
early sound changed somewhat as the band later admitted that it was influenced by the
likes of the Bunnymen and the Teardop Explodes.
What do you remember about the recording of the LP?
|Norman: Hard graft,
horrible night shift sessions in London (the record company did it all on the cheap), the
royal wedding (Chas & Di) - the guy who owned the studio near Inverness was a big
royalist and decked the place out in red, white and blue bunting - he couldn't figure out
weren't interested, watching loads of pirate videos, tons of beer and malt whisky.
There were some really good moments in Wales doing the last few overdubs and
the mixing, which only Ali Paterson and I attended.
We were hanging out with The Teardrops, Pete
Wylie from Wah (who sings uncredited on Something's Wrong), The Undertones and, bizarrely,
Motorhead - who were actually really nice guys. It didn't really fit the image to
bump into Philthy Animal (the drummer) sitting on a tartan travelling rug having a picnic
(by himself) on the banks of the River Wye!
Ally: The time in Inverness was fun. It was
our first experience of an extended period living in a studio. We spent most of our time
recording in our slippers. But the fact that we used three or four different studios
didn't help. I really enjoyed recording Snakes and Ladders, even though it was a little
rushed. I can still remember finishing it off before we had to rush off to King's Cross to
catch the sleeper home.
In retrospect, what do you think of it?
Norman: Pretty poor really. I quite like side 1 but I hate
my vocals throughout (too monotone) and never liked the production on it, as it really
dates it too much to that 1981 sound. The band was at its best when played it
straight really; I don't think we ever topped the first John Peel session.
Ally: At least once a year, at the end of a late-night drink, I will put it on. Some of it
I enjoy though purely for nostalgic reasons. A lot of the LP is over produced.
Ticking Away is a classic example. And although some of the sounds are interesting
(guitars recorded in the toilet etc) too many of the songs lost their rawness. The one
song I feel stands the test of time is the single version of On The Run, though it is
still pretty raw.
OK, here's the thing. If you liked the band you'll
have your own opinions of the record and you won't be burdened by what you KNOW it sounded
like in your head. But if you are just curious about the band and wonder what they
sounded like, these guys will put you off!
So yeah, it does sound of its time, but then again
there are very few LPs that don't. But the songs don't suffer from some of the early 80's
production that stifled bands like the Cure. There's plenty of life in there and to be
honest, I still like it a lot.
Band photo and LP image courtesy of Norman Rodger.