Hi Brian! Thanks so much for getting in touch and being up for this interview! How are you? Are you still based in Bridgwater? Still making music?
Ey up. No problem, thanks for the interest. I’m in Bridgwater. In fact I’m in bloody cold freezing wintry Bridgwater today which is very unusual here in the Tropical south west of England. How am I? I’ve got a cold. Still making music -not so much -spend more time touring other bands round -check out NYC band Gangstagrass -I drove them round UK & Europe last year. Played my last gig in April this year with a Jamaican guitarist a Czech bassist and an Italian drummer – that’s International Socialism for you. I sang ‘Car Park Attendant’ a song I debuted in the Sedgemorons.
So let's start from the very beginning, like what was your first instrument and how did you get it? Was it easy for you to learn how to play it?
Instrument? Probably a piano accordion that laid around the house as a kid. My grandad was a captain of sailing ships and brought it back from Nazi Germany in the 30s. Having been liberated from Fascism it featured on and off in bands through the years. I did some session work with John Parish’s band ‘Automatic Dlamini’ (featured PJ Harvey) in the 90s and played it on that. Song called ‘Roland Barthes didn’t do country’ (1992) and again later with a US band called ‘Ensenada Joyride’. You can also hear it on the Red Smed track ‘Partisan Song’ (currently on 374,000 views- that’s more than Uncle Freds Lucky Tandem!!). Anyway - learning that led me to piano and then one day I moved to guitar at about 16 and taught myself that. Never had no lessons nor nothing. Hence shit technique.
And what sort of music was listened at home while growing up? When did you know you wanted to be in a band?
My dad was never at home as he worked away at powerplants but when he came home he’d sometimes bring comedy records with him – Jake Thackray, 5 Penny Piece, Spike Jones, Blaster Bates, My mum would sing old movie songs around the house. So no help there then! I was a kid in the mid 60s and so the Beatles were the first thing I listened to - also the Monkees. And it was their TV series that made me want to be in bands. So I formed a garage band aged about 10 when I lived in North Wales (called ‘The Thundermakers’) I sang (and wrote) and we played in the garages on our council estate and invited the neighbourhood kids in to watch us. They paid a penny each then we’d take the cash and spend it on Batman bubblegum cards. Rock n Roll or what!!
Had any of you have experience in being in bands before being in The Sedgemorons? If so, which bands were you in?
Just me and Nervo the drummer really. We’d been in punk bands together since the late 70’s (mainly ‘The Dangerous Brothers’).Stuart the bass player had been singer in a punk band called The Market Gardeners, but he was also in the Royal Navy and so didn’t gig too often (apart from Falklands War and the Cod War) (that was a real war about fish against Iceland)(Aggressive little sods) (the fish I mean) Anne, Lianne and Gareth -SMs was their first band and Bazza the sax man had only just learnt his instrument (I think)
How did you all know each other to form The Sedgemorons? Was there some sort of recruiting process?
Well, the Dangerous Brothers were the heart of the Bridgwater music scene and we formed an organisation around us called Sheep Worrying -which was not just a record label it was also a fanzine, a theatre company, we put on gigs and so on and it was very DIY indie punk stuff. So all the people in the SMs were an integral part of Sheep Worrying. It was a bit like recruiting the Magnificent Seven. First there was me and Nervo, then Stuart, then Anne, then Lianne, then Gareth then Bazza and then we shot up a Mexican village. There was nothing like ‘auditions’ except maybe me teaching Stuart to play the bass.
Where did you usually practice? And how was the creative process for the band?
Sheep Worrying had an ‘office’ on the top floor of the Labour Party headquarters Unity House. We did everything there -wrote the fanzine, rehearsed the plays, etc and so we rehearsed the band there too. The creative process was mainly me writing stuff and bringing it to the band and them adding to it with ideas. Later Anne or Gareth wrote whole lyrics. ‘Girlfriend’ lyric was mainly by Gareth with me putting music to it. Then I’d teach Stu the bass line, then Anne and Lianne would work out some harmonies and then Gareth would fall off a chair or out of a window.
The sound of The Sedgemorons is quite unique I think, so I wonder, what would you say were your influences?
In truth we decided to break away from the quirky punky feel that came from the previous bands I'd been in and aimed for more indie pop and more accessible music. We formed the band to raise money (not for ourselves) so we wanted mainstream gigs and to be a bit cabaret to earn cash-but we very quickly weren’t satisfied with that and kept pushing the boundaries, sending ourselves up and the audiences and so influences were quite eclectic. Personally my guitar influences were always Eddie Cochran, Hank Marvin and Wilko Johnson so that mix is where you get the fast jangly rhythm and the twangy lead sounds. But the underlying influence was punk attitude I’d say.
What is the story behind the band's name?
well, the district we live in is called Sedgemoor. You can checkout that it’s also the scene of the last battle in England (1685) so it didn’t take much to add ‘morons’ in there.
How was Bridgwater back then? Where did you usually hang out? What were the places where you would go out and check bands? Where there any like-minded bands?
Bridgwater was and is a small provincial town but with a radical history. 75% working class but by the 80s that was in decline due to Margaret bloody Thatcher. Unemployment was high and money was scarce. So we were a mix of the fightback against her and trying to create a scene ourselves that was original and local and encouraged all bands to work together and put on stuff together, share gigs, share gear etc. However, we basically took over the local Art Centre (which incidentally was the first art centre in Britain-1946) and put on it’s music programme and our original theatre and mainly hung out there. So it was us that put on the local gigs 4 bands at a time -and brought down big alternative bands of the day such as Crass, Toy Dolls, Chumbawamba that sort of thing. Bands rarely came to Bridgwater that we didn’t put on so you’d have to go to the nearest city-Bristol to see big gigs. However, Glastonbury is only 10 miles from Bridgwater and there’s that massive music festival there every year which we all went to. We used to help them with the traffic control -these days I supply workers for the bars there.
Your first release was a cassette album titled "We're Bonkers". I haven't found much information about it aside that it was recorded live. Is there a tracklist? When was it released? How many copies were made?
'We’re Bonkers’ was the first thing we did yes. It was a mix of a live gig at the Antelope Inn Sherborne where we played with The Chesterfields. Simon Barber recorded us from the PA and in fact his voice is on the album wishing me a happy birthday (it was my birthday) -but we also went into a studio to add maybe 6 more tracks. The album was basically a mix of the ‘cabaret’songs we’d been doing to raise money (‘Sorrow’-The Merseys,’Don’t Get Around much anymore’-Duke Ellington plus our on stage opener ‘Y Viva Espana’-played Shadows Style) then some of the newer originals we were writing including an early version of Drop Dead Darling and some of the ‘poems’ (which I wrote for a stage play and Stuart read). Recorded 22 Sept 1984. Don’t think we made more than 100 copies Track list -1 Y Viva Espana (Trad) 2 Sorrow (trad) 3 Don't Get around much anymore(trad) 4 Greed (Smedley) 5. Window Box of life (Smedley) 6 Drop Dead Darling (Smedley/Kane) 7 Ethiopia Utopia (Smedley) 8. I walk the line (trad) 9.Twist n shout (trad)10 20 Flight Rock (Cochran)
Your second 7" came out in 1985 on the label Sheep Worrying Records. This was your own label, how was the experience running it?
Sheep Worryings first release was ‘False Nose’ by the Dangerous Brothers in 1980 and then we did a few others and as it was our umbrella organisation it was natural the SMs would be part of it too. In fact it was our 3rd 7” release -the second was ‘the Sheep Worrying EP’ (1982) which featured me and Nervo + others in a band called Club Whoopee doing a song called ‘You’re sort of ok’ (written by me and horror writer Kim Newman). Running a DIY indie label with no money was a nightmare but so was the 1980s. We were in a massive political struggle and no one involved had any money, few had jobs and gigs were a political statement more than building a career. We also went on demos, actions, protests all that stuff. The establishment hated us. One local newspaper labelled me ‘the most dangerous man in somerset’ at this same time.
I read that because the label needed funding to keep going you formed The Sedgemorons to get out of the debt. Is that true? Did it work out in the end?
Yes that’s true. We built up our fanzine to a 'Listings' magazine with 1,500 circulation but it had to be paid for so we used advertising. Sometimes we didn’t get enough to cover it so we just kept letting the debt build up then one day we were staring at a £1,000 debt..so we said ‘let’s form a cabaret band just to pay this off’ -hence the Sedgemorons. After a year we paid it off and by the second year we were gigging for fun and actually gaining a reputation and enjoying it so stuck with it
This 7" had two songs, "Drop Dead Darling" and "I Need a Girlfriend". I found a video for the second song, all of you playing it at the Bridgwater Arts Centre when the BBC2 was filming a documentary about it. How was that experience? Was it the only time the band was on TV?
The clip is from I think 1985 and upstairs at the art centre. We’re playing acoustically but I dubbed the single version over the youtube clip.I'm in the white car park attendant coat,Lianne in the bobby socks, Anne with a broken arm, Gareth singing ‘Girlfriend’ Stuart on tea chest bass playing with his motorbike gloves and Nervo and Bazza sat on a window sill, I don’t recall the SMs doing any other TV. We got a fair bit of radio play.
I must say that I love the song "Drop Dead Darling", was wondering if you could tell me in a few sentences what is the story behind it?
Ha! When the SMs formed in 1984 I lived with Debbie (Kane) and we jokingly wrote the song together. Mainly her lyric and directed at me. And then she left me. Reality imitating Art. She also did the design work on the cover which is meant to represent a lipstick message on a mirror! I wrote the music. Actually the original idea came from writer Kim Newman (who I wrote musicals with) and who was trying to write a pastiche of ‘Move Over Darling’ (Doris Day) but when I was trying to put music to that basically me and Debbie just totally re-wrote it and we changed all the words except his title so he asked not to have a credit. I played the new song to the band and it became our most popular song and sort of set the scene for the next 2 years
How was the recording process for these songs?
We recorded them at the Milborne Port studios near Sherborne early 1985. It was an 8 track studio and the producer was Chris Hardcastle. It took us an afternoon and evening I think. We brought in Bazza to do some sax on ‘Girlfriend’ and he also did the ‘whistling’-which he ad-libbed in a jazz style. Bazza was basically Gareths mate who we’d barely met. Gareth wrote the words to ‘Girlfriend’ and sang it and also spontaneously did the scat singing bit (without asking us). Anne sang lead on ‘Drop Dead’ with Lianne doing backing. I over dubbed the lead guitar and then at the end I put in some piano. There’s only one ‘mistake’... during the almost last line of 'Girlfriend' Stuart is slightly late on a bass note – and now I’ve told you that you’ll hear it all the time!!
Did you appear in any compilations that you remember?
The SMs didn’t. We did ‘we’re bonkers’ then ‘the single’ and then we went into a studio in Weston Super Mare to record 4 more tracks which we never released. Although the photo that we use on most of our promo stuff was taken that night on the stormy seafront in the town of John Cleeses birth. We only lasted 2 years
And so, why weren't there more releases by the band? Was there any interest by other labels?
When we did ‘we’re bonkers’ we tested the water with record labels and in fact Cherry Red were really keen and sent us a hilarious fan letter back. This really boosted us and made us take the cabaret band into the more original direction hence the single -which was distributed by Rough Trade and led to good coverage in the music press and some good gigs.
Are there more recordings other than the ones mentioned, any unreleased songs by The Sedgemorons?
Just the 4 songs from Weston – 2 Anne lyrics (my music) ‘Small town’ and ‘women only’ and 2 of mine ‘Rock n roll is pretty exciting’ and ‘Trotsky’. Both these songs are on you tube done by my later bands but I might put these original recordings up as now I think of it theres some comical bits there plus me playing a banjo and some backward vocals from Nervo to sound Russian and backward cymbals to sound Pink Floyd. We also played one gig at the Thekla (a boat owned by Bonzo Dog Doodah Band frontman Viv Stanshall) which we recorded and I think there’s an unreleased tape of that somewhere..I’ll have a look!
What about gigs? Did you play many? Any particular great ones that you remember and why?
We played lots of gigs mainly in the south and west of England. Best gig was the Moles Club Bath after which we had a review in Sounds (music paper) and then Peel played our single and the next days gig at the Exeter Art Centre was packed with people who’d heard it. The Bristol Thekla gigs were good, lots of obscure pub gigs and of course a lot in Bridgwater and surrounds. Our last gig ever was in St Pauls Bristol at the Tropic Club, but Nervo couldn’t find it so we had to borrow a drummer from the audience
I read that you toured a stage musical named "Rock N' Roll is Pretty Exciting", how were this musical? What was special about it?
Yes this was a send up of teen rock musicals like ‘Summer Holiday’or more likely 'the Young Ones'-or maybe check out 'What a Crazy World' or 'Gonks go Beat'. We all wrote lots of sketches based around our songs and then glued them together to make a show. It was about a car park attendant (Rockin Brian) whose car park was going to be closed and turned into a discotheque. So -like Yul Brynner did, but with more hair – I had to get ‘the kids’ to help me save the car park. (oh, that’s ‘parking lot’ in American). We did all the songs and we all acted in it. Then we toured it to a few other places. We considered reviving it recently with my daughter – but then she grew up. For this show we all gained our stage names -I was Rockin Brian-a particularly tedious man with a flat midlands accent (ref Noddy Holder from Slade, Ozzy Osborne or anyone in the cast of 'Peaky Blinders'), Lianne was Bobby Bland-a rather starry-eyed teeny bopper, Anne was ‘Betty Bonkers’-a hard bitten feminist, Gareth was ‘Bing Beasley’-a twat who fell over a lot , Stuart was the abstract poet ‘Ghenghiz 2-Stroke’ Bazza and Nervo were just themselves really
And where there any bad gigs at all? Any anecdotes you could share?
We didn’t do bad gigs because we made out we were bad and argued with each other on stage so no-one could tell the difference. We played one gig at Cheltenham College where the rugby team tried to disrupt it but couldn’t work out if they had or not so gave up. The ‘legs’ photo on the sleeve is from there. By our last gig at the Tropic club we’d actually fallen out with each other for real so the atmosphere wasn’t good. Our last song played together was an acapella version of ‘Silent Night’. It was excruciating, we just sang the words 'silent night,silent night' over and over.
Did you get much attention from the press or radio? I see John Peel used to play you. What about fanzines?
Yes Peel liked us and played us a few times as did other radio and we got a fair few reviews here and there. Fanzines -well, we reviewed ourselves and so did a few other ones.
When did the band call it a day? And why? What did you all do afterwards? I see you were involved in many bands even covering some Sedgemorons songs!
I’m pretty sure it was late 1985 which now I think of it meant we were only going for a year and a half. We started off as great mates with an aim – to raise money – we did the album then the single -got good reviews-looked like we were on the up and up and then I reckon egos came into it a bit. We sort of split into 2 ‘partner’ factions , me and Lianne against Anne and Gareth with Stuart in the middle. Nervo was always in demand with other bands and was a very good ska-reggae drummer playing with the Alkaloids and another good indie band ‘India’ then I think this reflected in what we all wanted to do next. So when we got to the Christmas 85 gig we in fact formed 2 bands -me and Lianne formed ‘Red Smed and the hot trot smash the system boogie band’(which did the comedy political stuff) while Anne and Gareth formed the ‘Inflatable Ducks’ which were more maybe ‘Smiths meet the Cure’ type of sound. Then people moved on and the band wound up. Anne left music and went into journalism (she was actually the main reporter for the Bridgwater Mercury at the time anyway) but moved to another part of UK and in fact to NYC at one point. She went on to make a name for herself as a producer of current affairs programmes for the BBC radio 4. I met her a coupe of years back in London for the first time in 20 years. She has 2 daughters. Lianne, who I dated at the time, went off to RADA and then became a successful stage manager of largescale childrens theatre productions around the world. I haven’t seen much of her since she left-but I always get a xmas card. She lives in Coventry. Or possibly Belgrade. Gareth went to Manchester and studied acting-which is what he does now with his one man shows. He’s very good. I met up with him again mid 90s and we produced a Czech-English musical together called ‘Czechomania’. Stuart left the area to study drama and became a teacher. He moved back to Bridgwater mid 90s and I got him playing for the Red Smed band on and off. I hadn’t seen him for 10 years by the way – until today!! Weird or what? He wants to get another band together. Bazza went off to London and did his own thing as an electronic music session player and recently moved back to Bridgwater and I bump into him rarely. Nervo (real name Kevin) played in every band I was subsequently in (Red Smed, the Visitors, the Spanners) but about 10 years ago his doctor told him he couldn’t drum anymore. So he just stopped.(Nervo i mean, not the doctor)
Are you all still in touch? What do The Sedgemorons do today? Has there been any band reunions?
We’re not really in touch. I had a go recently to see if I could get a reunion, but it didn’t seem likely. That said Stuart seemed keen today, so you never know..
Aside from music, what other hobbies do you have?
Well, in 1990 I got elected to the council as a Labour councillor and have done that for 27 years. Today I’m the Leader of Bridgwater Town Council-which is a strong socialist council and so I’m trying to instil some of that original punk ethos into the local political scene and I think It’s working. I also became very involved with the Czech and Slovak Republics after the collapse of Communism and so spend a lot of my time taking people backwards and forward there – every year organising a rock tour for instance -and lots of other stuff too. Not sure that gives me time for a hobby – football maybe. I’ve organised international football teams and tournaments and only stopped playing myself a couple of years back (with a sensational hat-trick in Hungary against a fat team of Czech factory workers). I like encouraging young bands -especially original ones – and I like driving and touring musicians. One of the last gigs that Clash Frontman Joe Strummer played was here in Bridgwater in 2002-a month before he died (he lived round here and called Bridgwater 'a Clash Town') – me and Nervo supported him on stage and from that gig we keep an annual link up with KEXP radio Seattle who do a live link up for their ‘International Clash Day’ (c. Feb 8th). We twinned Bridgwater with Seattle – check out the youtube click of me reading the proclamation.
Today how is Bridgwater, Somerset? Has it changed much since The Sedgemorons days? If I, or any reader of this interview, was to visit as a tourist someday, what would you suggest checking out in your area?
If you or anyone who wasn't a total fkwt wanted to come to Bridgwater you would be welcomed with open arms. Today it’s a bit of a boom town…yes, we now have 3 nuclear power plants…..and 6 new hotels. A lot of music and a lot of history and all in the beautiful surroundings of the cream and cider drenched West Country. The Bridgwater Art Centre is still going, the Engine Room film and media centre was set up following the Strummer benefit gig and is a great progressive place, and the river has the 2nd highest tide in the world (after somewhere in Canada). Check out the Green Olive meze restaurant, the Blake fish and chip bar, the Cobblestones indie music pub, the Fountain Inn (an old sailors pub..if you like old sailors), Wetherspoons-for the cheapest drinks in town (and Nervo) and my flat in the elegant 18th century Georgian Castle street (a bit like Boston) home of the Swedish Womens Netball Team – well, it would be if they were looking for a home.
Looking back, what would you say was the biggest highlight for The Sedgemorons?
1. Getting the fan letter from Cherry Red 2. Getting played on John Peel 3. The early days when we were one big happy family