Here we are after a month, thanks to terrible service from my past hosting provider. They had a server failure and they seem not to care about backups. So in the end I changed servers and have manually posted every single entry, link and hopefully comments, on the blog. To resume the blog I have a fantastic interview with the obscure Stoke band: The Singing Curtains! I only knew them from the Kite Tape so learning more about them is really exciting! Thanks so much to Karl, Ken and Nigel. And really I appreciate your patience! Took forever to be able to publish this interview!
++ Hi! Thanks so much for getting in touch! I was always curious about the track on the Kite tape. Care to tell me a bit about “While The Children Build Sandcastles”? What’s it about and how come it ended up in this tape compilation?
Karl: Thanks for the questions! This whole wave of nostalgia has come in force: I hooked up with Dave Wood from the Sainsburys on Facebook recently for the first time in about 18 years and saw they had been immortalized by Cloudberry. At precisely the same time, Takashi Yonezawa contacted me by email: he had put ‘While the Children…’ on Youtube some time ago. We were amazed to come across it! I have no idea what the song was about, I only plucked the strings on the bass that Ken and Nigel pointed to. We always struggled with song titles; this one came from a holiday brochure my mother had in our house when we were rehearsing one day.
The tape compilation was done by a friend’s brother some time after we split, I think.
Ken: As to the lyrical content – standard woe-is-me teenage angst
++ So was this song part of some demo tape? If so, tell me what other tracks did you record for it? What was your whole recorded output? Did you appear in any other tape compilation?
Karl: It was on a demo recorded at ‘the Barracks’ in Newcastle under Lyme in 1987. That and the other three tracks: ‘And Now a New Pool’ ‘Up’ and ‘Sit and Read’ constituted the whole recorded output of this indie supergroup. By the way, you may be able to detect another travel brochure-inspired title there.
++ Looking back in retrospective, what was your favourite song of yours? Why?
Karl: I liked ‘Up’ as it led off with a fast upbeat bassline.
Ken: I liked a song we had called ‘You Dress Well’, unfortunately lost to posterity, but containing an interesting chord structure, which you have no way of checking.
Nigel: I don’t know about favourite song, but I remember one called ‘Sounds Vaguely Italian’. And it did.
++ Was there never a chance to get your songs released? If you were to choose a record label from your time that you would have dreamed to have your songs released in, which one would it be?
Karl: I recall we sent the demo to tons of labels, but strangely no-one was interested. It was an early lesson in disappointment. We went up to Manchester one day to Factory Records hoping to see Tony Wilson. We handed in the demo and they were kind enough to let us raid the poster-cupboard. Great fun for teenage music-mad lads. On reflection we weren’t really that ‘Factory’ – maybe more 53rd & 3rd?
Ken: I was obsessed with Factory and it would have been a dream to be on there. However, as Karl says, our music was very un-Factory-like.
Nigel: According to Peter Hook’s book How not to run a club, demo tapes sent to Factory but rejected were taken to Strangeways prison once a month to entertain the guests! Maybe we were big in East Wing?
++ So let’s go back in time, even before the recordings, how did The Singing Curtains start? Who were the members and how did you know each other?
Karl: Originally the members were: Ken Brough, Karl Rowley and Nigel Massey, plus Andrew Crawford. We formed in 1985 when we were 15-16. We were all at the same school and lived fairly close to each other. I’d known Ken since I was 5. We were all into the same sort of music and forming a band seemed natural, except that I had no musical ability whatsoever. So I got the bass. The drummer was originally a pathetically tinny machine. Musical differences saw of Andrew and at VIth Form we were introduced to Mark Hassall who was an excellent drummer, who kindly agreed to prop us up.
++ Was this your first band ever?
Karl: First and last.
Ken : I was in a similarly ephemeral band at University called Spicy Toes. Don’t ask.
++ Who came up with the name The Singing Curtains? What does it mean?
Karl: We ended up with a shortlist (which included Derek Nimmo’s Aorta and the Petrified Jack Russells) and literally picked the name by lottery. It means nothing, though spookily if you google it nowadays some manufacturer is actually selling singing shower curtains. I think we should sue.
Ken: I came up with it. Along with about forty other possibles on a list which is probably still in my parents’ attic. My favourite was Wank PA.
++ You were from Stoke, right? Do you still live there? Has it changed much?
Karl: We were. None of us live there now, though our families still do. The coal pits have closed and the pottery firms have downscaled. It went through a bit of a slump but I’m sure it’s still an interesting place to grow up. The oatcakes are still God’s own food.
++ What were your favourite spots in town to hang out? What was a usual Singing Curtains Saturday evening/night?
Karl: Leadbelly’s and the Dew Drop in Hanley. The former was populated by the entirety of the cool people in Stoke in the mid-Eighties, and us. Quite a few bands played there. A typical night I seem to recall was Leadbelly’s spinning out a fiver on beer and then Chico’s: the nightclub in Stoke. It had a very sticky floor and an odd smell but there was a great mix of alternative-types and they played some spot-on music.
++ What were other bands from the time that you liked? I hear you were a bit Talulah Gosh fan? Were you indiepop kids back then?
Karl: I was probably the most Start-Rite of the lot, and had the girlfriend to match. I loved Talulah Gosh, the Pastels, the Clouds, the Razorcuts etc. Equally (and inconsistently) I liked Joy Division, Laibach, the Stockholm Monsters.
Nigel: I was, and still am, a big fan of Laibach and saw them play in London a few years ago. I also attempted to rekindle my teenage interest in the Wedding Present and saw them on their tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of their George Best album. I celebrated at the back of the bar from the comfort of a Chesterfield sofa and sipping a cup of tea!
Ken: I was a big New Order fan, as well as Felt, Blue Aeroplanes and Durutti Column. In an ironic twist, we not only didn’t transcend our influences, we descended below them.
++ Oh! and what about fanzines? Were you involved with them?
Karl: Not in Stoke, though obviously we knew Dave Wood who was quite into that scene. In Oxford after we split I got to know the guy who produced ‘The Dreaming Spires’ when I regularly attended gigs in Jericho.
++ And gigs! Where was the farthest place from Stoke that you got to play in? Which other gigs you remember? Any anecdotes that you could share?
Karl: I think once we got our passports out and went to Burslem. The best one for me was the one where we supported the Darling Buds. One Saturday morning my mum shouted up the stairs that there were some girls on the phone for me. I went down to take the call and it was ‘We’ve Got a Fuzzbox…’ They were due to play in Stoke and I’d written to them to ask about supporting them. In the event they’d got their supports sorted out but they were really lovely, and I was, at 16, really chuffed that they’d rung. My favorite anecdote is an exchange between Ken and a member of the Band ‘True Flies’ post a gig in town. True Flies were a bit older than us and a bit hippy, particularly their lead singer. Anyway, after the gig I’m at the bar with Ken and the guitarist from the Flies. Ken is slagging off their performance, describing them as ‘A bunch of talentless ageing hippies’. The Fly responds: ‘I’d rather be a talentless ageing hippy than an eighteen year old arrogant twat’ to which Ken beautifully ripostes: ‘I’m nineteen, actually.’
Ken: to be fair, they were rubbish.
++ If you were to do a top five of Singing Curtains history highlights, which 5 moments would you save forever?
Karl: Attempting to smoke tea when rehearsing. Someone had said it was a legal high so we brought some PG Tips bags to the studio and I spent ages unpacking then repacking a cigarette with tea. When I came to light it all the tea fell out. When eventually we lit it it tasted like s*** and had no effect. In general rehearsals were great, my abiding memory is just crying with laughter. We divvied up the time with the Sainsburys, and that was really good fun. We improvised an excellent version of ‘How do do it all do it’ and adapted Run DMC’s ‘My Adidas’ into a tribute to the then-popular antiques expert, Arthur Negus. The final gig at Katz was excellent too; a really good atmosphere.
Ken: I’d agree. Our rehearsals, if they could be called that, were just three hours of arsing around and laughing seemingly constantly. When I picture the rehearsal room in my mind, I never visualize us actually standing up or playing instruments, but dicking around. We also tried to smoke banana skins.
Nigel: I enjoyed doing the gigs… I think there were five of them.
++ So when and why did you call it a day? What happened after with you guys?
Karl: 1988 when two of us went to university. Ken was completing his third year at VIth Form and then went up to Manchester. It wasn’t practical to carry on. We all kept in touch as friends, though.
++ Are you all still in touch? What do The Singing Curtains do nowadays?
Karl: I speak to Ken every few days. I haven’t seen Mark for a decade, apart from on Facebook. Nigel went to the Royal Academy and is an artist. I’m a barrister.
Ken: I’m a solicitor.
Karl: Oh yes, it’s a real rock and roll story.
++ Okay, let’s wrap it up. But why don’t you me about any other passions you have aside from music?
Nigel: Fine slippers.
Karl: I’m quite bookish. I also really enjoy cycling.
Ken: I’m a big reader as well. In both senses.
++ Thanks so much! Anything else you’d like to add?
Karl: Just to thank you too. It only took us 22 years to get discovered! Pretty good, I’d say.
The Singing Curtains – While The Children Build Sandcastles