Thanks so much to Patrick Lines and Simon Rosenbaum for this great interview! I wrote about Keen some time ago on the blog and at last, thanks to Patrick, we get to know the story of Keen. They only released two records in the late 80s, a 7″ and a 12″, but it seems there was a CD also that almost got released. I look forward to listen to it someday soon!
++ Hi Patrick! Thanks so much for getting in touch! So you were telling me that there is a CD aside from the two singles? What’s the story of this CD and what tracks are on it?
Patrick: The CD was put together after the band split and used some of the songs from the two singles and some other bits and pieces that we’d recorded. It was called “Going Through the Emotions”. We never got round to formerly releasing it for one reason and another, the main one being the split of the band. As you’ll hear a lot of it is pretty rough – more like demos really – but it captures what the band was like quite well.
The track listing is:
On Your Knees
Tears Into Me
++ So Keen. Where does the name come from?
Patrick: I’m not sure! I think it came from the name of the first That Petrol Emotion single but others in the band might have different ideas! I’m not certain which of us came up with it but it was either me or Andy.
++ And was Keen the first band you were involved with? What bands would you say influenced you? Can I dare to say you listened to indiepop back then?
Patrick: No, I’d been in a few bands as had the others. Me and Andy were first in a band called The Insults, who became The Household Names and then I went on to a band called The Third Man (where Pauline came on board) before me and Andy got back together with a band called Steel Mine that were really the forerunners of Keen.
I think all five of us in the band had very different influences, which sometimes was a good thing and at other times not so good! At the time we did the two singles I think it would still have been a lot of the post-punk bands that influenced us, or me anyway, – Echo and The Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs, Cocteau Twins, Joy Division, Orange Juice, the aforementioned That Petrol Emotion and so on. Andy was probably the most into the original punk stuff and then at the other end you had Simon who was very into the more poppy stuff around at the time. The only bands I can think of that we all liked were I guess The Smiths and The Clash, although you’d probably struggle to detect either of them as an influence! We did listen to a lot of indiepop between us and around that time I loved bands like The June Brides, The Primitives and so on.
Simon: As Patrick already said before Keen I was in a band originally called Release The Geese but by the time I left we were called Guessing Games. We were less indie more traditional power pop with folky leanings think Wishbone Ash meets Squeeze though of course not quite in the same league as those classic bands!
I have to say my influences were probably quite different to Patricks apart from maybe The Smiths I loved bands like The Pretenders, Martha & The Muffins, The Korgis (no cred marks for them!) The Cure, The Police, Pet Shop Boys and my fave artist Kate Bush. So I like a pop songs with a great melodies. Later on I did get more into the indie scene and started to like bands like Cocteau Twins, Echo & the Bunnymen and R.E.M. I was also into film music so I would say the music of John Barry was also an influence on me.
++ Who were the members of the band? What instruments did they play? And how did you all knew each other?
Patrick: Me and Andy (Guy) met at school and he played bass and me the guitar. When I later joined the Third Man we advertised for a singer and that’s when I met Pauline (Males). Simon (Rosenbaum) I met when we were both put on some work experience type job. Both started on the same day and immediately hit it off. He was in a band called Release the Geese at the time but when they split we’d occasionally get him to play keyboards until he eventually refused to leave and became a full-time member! After that we got Iain (Mackay) through an advert placed for a drummer. It was really Iain who gave us the motivation and the plans to go from being very much a little local band to one with bigger ideas. When Andy left we replaced him with a proper bass player! That was a guy called Matt. And along the the way we also got a second female singer - Gillian.
++ Where were you based? And how influential were your surroundings to the band? Would you have rather being with the band somewhere else?
Patrick: Me, Andy, Pauline and Simon all came from South West London – the Kingston, Wimbledon area for those that know it. Iain was originally from Newcastle and ended up in London for work.
Looking back I guess there was something in that suburban thing that probably did influence the band though I couldn’t say any of us were particularly attached to the area. I don’t think that ever really came out in the lyrics or anything but maybe in the attitude of the band. That sense of wanting to escape from where you were. For Iain I think there was a link back to Newcastle in the sense that he liked all the Kitchenware bands (Prefab Sprout, Hurrah, The Daintees) who were around at the time and from that area. The rest of us listened to all that too.
++ What were the places you would hang out in town? Were there many like-minded bands around that you enjoyed going to their gigs or even playing gigs with them?
Patrick: There were quite a few bands around in that area at the time but the only ones that me and Andy would go and see regularly were The Sound. Even now they’re probably the only ones I’d still listen to. I don’t think in Kingston or Wimbledon themselves we ever really wanted to hang around there much. We’d play anywhere that would have us! The best place to play for us back then was somewhere called The Powerhaus in Islington.
++ Tell me then about gigs, what were your favourite Keen gigs? Did you play many? Any anecdotes that you could share?
Patrick: Like I say the Powerhaus gigs were always my favourite. It was a great venue and just about right for us at the time. We must have played hundreds of places by the time we split and might have even given the impression we knew what we were doing by the end! I remember one gig that we filmed where three of us had got held up on the way there and Iain had given up on us ever making it and got drunk instead. If you watch the film he was usually probably the best musician out of the lot of us but his drumming was all over the place until at one point he just falls off the back of the stage; lying there in a drunken stupor!
The other one that sticks in the mind is one we did somewhere in North London. Simon – never the most hardy of souls – decided that the traffic was a bit heavy and he and Pauline gave up and went back home. Turned out we were playing a double bill with Lush who were Simon’s favourite band at the time. A great gig as it happens and he missed it – still moans about it to this day!
Simon: It was so long ago my memory is a bit hazy. I do always regret not getting to that gig where we were playing with Lush. I think the car broke down it wasn’t just that the traffic was heavy! I do remember we did have one very avid fan who seemed to be at every gig we played. I think his name was Dave!
++ During the years you were going did you feel part of a scene at all? What about fanzines? Were they important at all for the band?
Patrick: I don’t think we ever did feel part of any scene. The songs were probably too diverse to ever neatly fit into any category. Songs like ‘Missed The Point’ (which you’ve heard) was definitely very like a lot of the indiepop stuff around at the time but then there’d be others – like Daddy or Those Letters – which were miles away from it. As I was implying earlier, if you were being kind you’d say we were a very original band if you were being less kind you’d probably say we were all over the place musically!
In the very early days – before Keen really – fanzines were a big thing and in the bands me and Andy were in we’d do all we could to get a mention. We started one of our own called This Years Model, which was brilliant in our minds and over a pint but not quite so brilliant when we got round to actually producing it! A friend of mine at the time – Lee Davies – helped out with all that and actually made something of worth out of it. She went on to be editor of Time Out so I suppose it was useful for something! By the time we came to recording stuff and doing most of our gigs fanzines had kind of had their day.
++ You put out your two records on a label called Scaredy Cat. Was it your own label? How did that work out?
Patrick: Yeah, Scaredy Cat was really Iain’s baby. He put in most of the work and I think he even put up the finance for it. He was sort of drummer and manager all in one. I could be wrong but I think he came up with the name. The only other band that ever got released on Scaredy Cat records was the one he’d been in previously called Sixteen Again. As the title suggests they were a sort of Buzzcocks inspired band. I think that one is even harder to come by than the Keen stuff.
++ And I can’t help to ask, but were you big on cats? Did you happen to own some back in the day?
Patrick: I wash my hands of the name and the ‘Feline Groovy’ title! I’ve no recollection at all of how that came about. And the picture of the flippin’ cat on the cover! Now you mention it it does make it look like we were obsessed by cats, which I’m sure we weren’t!
++ I have heard a couple of your songs, but I still think “Missing the Point” might be my favourite. Care to tell me the story behind this song?
Patrick: Pauline wrote the lyrics for that one so I couldn’t say for sure. I’m guessing that it was about the fag-end of a relationship and the inherent communication breakdowns, though if I’m wrong then I’m probably only proving the title to be correct!
I wrote the music and it was definitely one of those songs that sound quite a lot like other stuff that was around at the time. I don’t think it was a conscious steal off anyone in particular though.
++ And which song of yours would you say was your favourite?
Patrick: My favourites were Those Letters, Darker Glasses and Daddy. I think they’re probably the ones where the lyrics are really strong and the music really works. In some others it’s kind of one or the other. Listening back to the songs I’d have to say that the thing that most strikes me is how powerful and clever some of Pauline’s lyrics were and these three I think are the best examples of that.
Simon: My favourite Keen song was always ‘Made Up’ though I also like ‘Darker Glasses’ and ‘Missed The Point’ quite a lot.
++ Which record came out first? The 7″ or the 12″? And what do you remember from the recording sessions for these. Were they any different from each other?
Patrick: The 7″ came first when Andy was still in the band. The 12″ was once Matt had replaced him. They definitely sound very different..Well, to me anyway. Though the second one wasn’t recorded a whole lot later we knew what we were doing a bit more by then. Matt was very different to Andy and he made the whole thing sound a lot slicker and tighter. I guess you could argue the first one sounds a bit more immediate but I think the better songs are on the 12″. The sessions were really easy. None of us were into doing loads of takes or anything. Like hundreds of other bands I think you can always listen back and wish you’d done some things differently but they sound okay. I think it goes back to that point about all of us having different influences. Some of us wanted a harder sound, others wanted maybe a more polished sound and you end up with a compromise that no one is entirely happy with.
The first session was a bit more exciting in the sense that we were all surprised to find ourselves making a single; by the time of the second one we had it more in mind to try and come up with something we were happier with.
++ Your records seem hard to find. How many copies were pressed do you remember?
Patrick: Iain handled all that. Again I could be wrong but I think there were a 1,000 of each..Most of them no doubt still up in Iain’s loft, wherever he now resides! In retrospect we took on a lot in terms of producing, promoting, distributing them and so on. There was interest from the press in both of them but if anyone then wanted a copy it was a bit of a lottery as to whether they could find one.
++ And why didn’t you get to release more records? Was there at any point interest from labels to put you out? Maybe some majors?
Patrick: Shortly after Feline Groovy we split up. We’d had tentative interest from a few labels. Arista was the one who followed it up with a concrete offer but they wanted us to change our appearance and some other things and we weren’t happy with that. In part that was the reason for deciding to do things on our label, We had quite a lot of support from some journalists in Melody Maker, Time Out etc and though we never really discussed it we always thought something might just turn up and never made a lot of effort to push it ourselves. Iain really was the one who did his best to organise us and get some sense of urgency into what we did; perhaps all the feline references were his thoughts on it being like herding cats!
++ What happened then? Why did you split? And what did you all do after? Did any of you continued making music?
Patrick: It was weird when we split. We went to a rehearsal one day and Matt I think it was who said something else had come up that he wanted to pursue and then Gillian and Pauline in turn also said they wanted to do other things. I think Pauline probably would’ve carried on but we went into a rehearsal with 6 members and some plans for more gigs, records etc and came out with 3!
Looking back, once Andy went the dynamic sort of changed and it was still good but became a bit more serious. Less just like a bunch of mates. At that point – though it was never explicitly stated – it became kind of obvious that either we’d ‘make it’ in the next twelve months or so or split up.
Simon: After Keen me, Patrick and Iain formed ‘The Pop Robsons’ but we only ever played one gig and then Iain left to go back up north. Me and Patrick worked on some songs for a bit after that but eventually we just stopped playing music and did other things.
++ Are you all still in touch? If so, what are you all up to these days? Any other hobbies or interests that you have aside from music?
Patrick: I’m still good mates with Simon and Andy and am in touch with Pauline. I haven’t seen or heard from Iain, Matt or Gillian in years. Iain in particular it would be good to catch up with. Two of the band (Simon and Pauline) became librarians, Andy’s a teacher, I’ve just left the Civil Service after 20 years and the others………………not a clue! Pauline has gone back to writing poetry/lyrics and I’m teaching my son to play guitar so maybe it’s gone full circle!
Simon: Me and Patrick are still good friends and I occasionally see Pauline but have lost touch with all the other members of the band. I can’t say I have any exciting hobbies apart from watching films and listening to music. I still try and keep up with the latest sounds my faves at the moment are Beach House, Girls Names and Chvrches.
++ Looking back in time, what would you say were the best moments of Keen as a band? What is that that you miss the most?
Patrick: I’m surprised when I listen back to the songs by how much I like them! As I was saying earlier I think the lyrics really stand up – Made Up, Those Letters, Daddy and so on are really powerful. In the early part it was just great fun – a bunch of mates making music, doing gigs and thinking we could do much as we pleased. I enjoyed all that stuff of writing songs and rehearsals and seeing it all come together. When it was me, Pauline and more latterly Simon writing the songs it worked well. By the end everyone was chipping in and we lost a bit of direction.
Simon: I enjoyed the creative process and seeing the songs develop and just jamming along with friends and not taking it too seriously! I probably miss that the most.
++ Let’s wrap it here, thanks a lot again, anything else you’d like to add?
Patrick: No problem. We’re going to try to find a way to make the songs available should anyone have the desire to hear them so we’ll let you know if or when we find a solution.
Keen – Missing the Point