Thanks so much to Darren O’Shanassy for the great interview. The Ampersands was a great Melbourne band from the early 90s that had two 7″s on Harriet Records. Surprisingly enough, I found out, not so long ago, that they had recorded two albums too. And then Darren got in touch, and kindly agreed in answering questions for the blog. So sit down, and enjoy!

++ Hi Darren! Thanks for being up for this interview. The first thing that strikes me is that you have two unreleased albums, not one, but two. How come? Why weren’t these released back in the day?

Hey, Roque.  I guess the two albums reflect the two major recording projects the band undertook… and these simply documented the band’s repertoire at the time.  Having three songwriters in the early stages of their respective musical careers meant that we had lots of material.

We consciously wanted to record an album’s worth of music; I’d say in part, this was to do something a little different than what was considered the usual path of releasing singles.  In hindsight it might not have been the best decision but, oh well, it was a fulfilling experience and most of it was fun.

They were never released in album format basically because no one was interested.  We canvassed a couple of ‘most likely’ labels in our hometown Melbourne but there were no bites.  We didn’t play enough shows to build any real supporter base.

Andrew Withycombe was our bass player and he met up with Tim Alborn on a trip to the US.  Tim offered to release a single on his label Harriet and we had no hesitation in offering songs off the first ‘album’.  When it came to a follow-up single, I pressed for the second ‘album’ to be released as a whole whereas Tim preferred another 7”.  My pig-headedness in not accepting Tim’s generous later offer of an abbreviated album in slimline-CD format is a decision I rue to this day.

++ And why have you decided, in 2012, to put them up online for grabs? Why not release them in physical form?

I honestly cannot envisage anyone wanting to release any of these 20-year-old recordings.  I have neither the funds nor the drive to make this happen.  Some years ago I knocked up a cover for each and distributed a handful of CD-R copies to close friends and family but that’s about it.  If anyone out there is interested in releasing two albums of quirk-pop then speak up!

There are a couple of motivators for uploading the albums onto SoundCloud and making them available to anyone:

Firstly, I’m aware there are two current bands called ‘The Ampersands’, one from New York and the other from Liverpool (this one even uses the same font!).  I was not keen for our legacy to become lost should either of these have wider success or renown (although I wish them both well) so it made sense to document some of our history and music on the web.

Moreover, I find myself with some time available to reconnect with some special people from that manic period of my life, and also to meet new friends who have stumbled upon the small discography of The Ampersands and have shown an interest.  The creative essence of the band and many of our peers was being part of the ‘community’ of do-it-yourself heroes.  Whilst life can take you on a different path for a while, that spirit is never doused.  I would wager that most people who bought a record by The Ampersands – and still have it – were in bands themselves.  I would love to be personally in touch with them and share the music they created too.

So a blatant promotion: anyone should feel free to check out both albums using the links found on The Ampersands’ Facebook page.  I also have my own compilation available as well, although several of the tracks overlap (you’ll find the later Ampersands recordings on the latter).

++ Let’s go back in time. When did The Ampersands form? Who were the members and how did you know each other?

At this point I should make reference to an obscure Australian radio station called 3MFM.  It was a community funded enterprise and a natural magnet for anyone with slightly ‘alternative’ musical tastes who lived in a small rural area approximately 100 miles south-east of Melbourne in 1988.  The station studio was at the base of the transmission tower on a god-forsaken windswept hill known as Mount Misery.  The studio itself was – literally – a converted cow-milking shed.

The 3MFM community included myself, Bart Cummings (an old school friend), Andrew Withycombe and – importantly for me – Stan Emmerson.  Stan introduced me to the delights of Toytown International, the famed cassette label run by the great Wayne Davidson.  Wayne, in turn, introduced all of us to The Cannanes.

There could be no greater inspiration or timelier gathering for creating our own DIY ‘production’ hub.  Together with Stan, Bart and my partner Maria, I ran a fanzine (Zeeeeen!) and released cassettes of our friends’ music under the moniker ‘You’re Standing On My Hula Hoop Productions’.  Along the way the collective grew to include Andrew Withycombe, ‘Dr Jim’ Glaspole and many others.  We generally championed the DIY cause.

A natural progression was to start playing our own music.  Bart and I had unsuccessfully tried to form a band in high school but now several years later sufficiently organised ourselves enough to play complete songs.  Maria was brave enough to sing them.

So that’s how The Ampersands evolved out of a dinky three-piece pop band that Maria Poletti and I were part of.  After working on a set of songs for a few months, we performed as a two-piece using the name for the first time on 10 August 1991 (according to an old gig-flyer I have where we are listed as a support for The Sugargliders and Girl Of The World).  Andrew Withycombe joined us on acoustic guitar for a few songs that night.

A couple of hours later, over a game of pool, Kim Lester agreed to join as our drummer.  Kim was briefly the drummer in the Hanshalf Trio, an earthy yet urbane musical collective and the brainchild of Michael Nichols (who I’d met through the fanzine).

++ What about the name The Ampersands, where did it come from?

Editing a ‘zine introduced us to a whole raft of great new punctuation nomenclature.  ‘Ampersand’ was one that I particularly liked to use, even in the wrong context, just because of the sound of it.  It was also fitting that the first syllable suggests sound.

++ Were The Ampersands your first band? Were you involved with other bands?

Other than the pared-down precursor to The Ampersands – as I described earlier – it really was my first band.  To be honest, besides a handful of months recording with Dean Catoggio (Andrew’s successor as bass player) and Julia Caluzzi under the name of Vivid Ultramarine, it has been my only band.

I should add – only because I still find it amusing – that the original ‘dinky three-piece’ I referred to earlier was known as ‘Brer Rabbit’s A Rascal’ derived from the Enid Blyton children’s book of the same name and selected by Bart and I in a wayward Grade 10 Geography class wherein a hapless substitute teacher by the name of ‘Cuttings’ lost control of twenty-five students.

++ Correct me if I’m wrong but your first release was the rare tape album “Half Folklore, Half Lies”. Who put this out? And why on tape? Also, as I’ve never had a chance to listen to it, how different does it sound to your later recordings and how many copies were made?

Hmm, this has had me stumped for some time.  ‘Half Folklore, Half Lies’ was the first album I referred to earlier.  I vaguely recall dubbing a handful of copies to cassette probably to canvas prospective record labels.  Someone has enigmatically felt a need to append this to our ‘Discogs’ entry.  Coincidentally, this person lists their name as “t_a”.

So it is by no means a ‘release’.

++ Then you had a string of 7″ releases. Three singles to be exact. Let’s start with the one in the German label Meller Welle Produkte. How did this one come about? How did Jörg contact you? And what about the cover drawing?

The Meller Welle single was actually our last release and hastily arranged at a time when the future of the band was unclear.  I believe Andrew was in contact with Jörg and handed over the communication to Maria when he left the band.  The four songs it contained were from the ‘Half Folklore, Half Lies’ sessions – we had newer stuff available at the time but were still hopeful of securing a release as an album so we opted for the older stuff.

The artwork was done by Kim using a ‘life drawing’ style.  Somehow our font got switched so it looks a little different to the earlier releases.

By the time it was released the band had effectively folded.  I don’t own a copy of it to this day and only sighted it for the first time in about 1998 when visiting Stan Emmerson’s house, where one resides near the front of a small box of 7” vinyl.

++ Then you released two 7″s for the great Harriet Records, one of the best indiepop labels. Two questions come to mind. First, how come you never released for an Australian label? And second, how important was Harriet Records for The Ampersands?

Like I said, we were just too small for any Australian label to be interested.  The only option here was to fund a release ourselves – which we could have done – but then we would have had the problem of distribution, airplay and so on.  Having an American label release it was the only sensible option and happily this kind of just fell into place thanks to Andrew’s visit to Boston and a meeting with Tim.

I cannot emphasis how important Tim Alborn was to The Ampersands.  He generously supported an unknown band from the other side of the world and allowed us what I considered to be a reasonable amount of input into the final product.

I confess I was pretty excited when a box of ‘Postcards’ 7” pressings arrived in the mail.  To make that upgrade from cassette to vinyl seemed to make you a ‘proper’ musician.

++ My favourite single of yours must be “Annabel Bleach”. It’s fantastic, even the B-sides are great. But let me ask you, who is Annabel Bleach? And what about the sailor song kind of influence?

I’ve never thought about this song as having a ‘sailor influence’ but now that you mention it I guess there is a sea shanty somewhere in there.

The song just missed out being recorded as part of the ‘Half Folklore, Half Lies’ sessions (it was still a little too raw and we already had plenty of songs).  Eventually we recorded it during the sessions for the next album, specifically for use as a B-side in the event that someone was willing to release another single.  I was stunned when Tim Alborn nominated this for our second Harriet release.

So I have had to live with my most referred-to song being something I wrote as a novelty song.

Annabel Bleach is an old friend of David Nichols and the broader Cannanes community.  She was their first singer.  I met her once briefly a very long time ago – at a time when the song was recorded but not yet released.  The song is therefore about an iconic past member of a revered band rather than Annabel the person who I do not know.

It’s always been inferred to me that Annabel despises the song.  Should this be the case then right here is an appropriate forum to unreservedly apologise for the embarrassment and annoyance I have caused her over the years.

I should have listened to Michael Nichols who at the time strongly suggested that I slightly change the name (his hypothetical alternatives included ‘Annabel Peach’).

++ Talking about influences, what were your favourite bands at this point? Were you fans of other Australian bands by the way?

Bands that we knew – some mentioned here such as The Cannanes, The Sugargliders, Girl Of The World – had a special inspiration to us.  There were also people like Wayne Davidson (Stinky Fire Engine) and Michael Nichols (Crabstick) who admirably waved the DIY flag.

It’s hard for me to speak on behalf of ‘the band’ because we all had very different tastes and influences.  Probably we shared a passion for the stuff coming from New Zealand at this time – the wave of Flying Nun releases and especially much of the Xpressway bands and performers.  Also, K Records were much loved; I recall that Maria and I were both into Mecca Normal in particular.

A popular pastime was scouring the independent record stores for home-label compilation cassettes, the more obscure the better.

++ And this 7″ had a beautiful B-Side “Tell Me What Can I Do” which it was penned by the great Bart Cummings. How did this collaboration come about? Have you collaborated with other Australian musicians in The Ampersands?

‘Tell Me What I Can Do’ was written by Bart in 1990 (or possibly earlier) and performed by Brer Rabbit’s A Rascal.  There is a long lost recording of it with Bart singing, possibly on a cassette tape in an ominous-looking cardboard box in my shed.  No doubt Bart would hope it stays lost indefinitely.

Somewhere along the line I must have decided to sing it at a rehearsal because Maria and I performed it at our first gig as The Ampersands.  I remember Bart being pleasantly surprised.

The cheesy organ on the recorded version was played by Wayne Davidson.  A handful of other ‘special guests’ appear on various tracks; full details will be listed as comments on the SoundCloud page hopefully by the time this interview is made public.

I should particularly mention the contribution Simon Grounds made to the recordings.  Simon has been something of a Melbourne musical icon since the early 1980s, most notably as a music producer and earlier as the founder of Shower Scene From Psycho.  We met him after Girl Of The World had worked with him at his private studio and had sung his praises.  Our bond with Simon was instant and strong.  He soon became our regular sound mixer for live shows (Maria said she would refuse to perform unless Simon was mixing) as well as the producer of both our albums.  It is he playing the madcap organ on ‘Annabel Bleach’.

++ But this record was your last, 1995. Before that you had released on Harriet too another fantastic 7″, “Postcards”. Tell me a bit about this record. What is the song “Postcards” about?

‘Postcards’ was written by Maria using lines from actual postcards people had sent to us.  She dryly observes how they all contained the same corny lines but nonetheless carry “lots of love”.

I wrongfully get co-authorship because of the music; it’s not really honourable to claim for only two chords.

‘Postcards’ was a crowd favourite, more than ‘Annabel Bleach’ was I think, and was the closing selection for almost all of our live performances.

There is an earlier recorded version that is slightly more manic but was properly mixed by Andrew Withycombe at the time.  It will be uploaded to SoundCloud when I get the chance.

I must say that during the lifespan of The Ampersands and for many years after I felt somewhat ambivalent about the song.  Twenty years later, if I truly let my guard down, I know that it holds a special place and I cherish it very much.

++ You made a video for “Cicchitti Pipeline”, how was that experience? Why not make more videos?

The video was hastily put together when David Harris from Season Records asked for a contribution to his forthcoming video compilation (eventually released as ‘Munch’).  This was not a straightforward task in the pre-digital days.

Maria took charge of the production and borrowed a video camera from her work.  The hotch-potch of video snippets was taken over the next couple of weekends.  There was no story-board, no script, no planning to speak of – just click ‘record’ wherever we were going (hence Bart makes a very brief cameo appearance at one point).

Editing all this together was difficult.  For example, we tried to switch scenes on the first beat of various sections of the song but it just simply didn’t work out.  The result makes me cringe.  Some meddling sod has uploaded it to youtube and thus provided my daughter with a forum to post “hey, that’s my Dad” which she thinks is funny.

For me, the song is one of the most enduring of The Ampersands’ repertoire.  Our friend Stuart Mathieson played a neat flute part and the minor chords kind of epitomise the bands’ sound (my whole guitar track is played with the index finger unmoved at B-String, fret 1).

It was intended as the opening track of our first album but, as well-documented here, it was never to be.  It was a relief to have it made public in some format and even better when Jörg included it on the ‘Dart’ EP some time later.  The song title steals the surname of a girl I worked with at ANZ Bank and the ‘Pipeline’ part pays homage to Guthegga Pipeline, an early band of Stephen O’Neil from The Cannanes.

I’ve recently uploaded a slide-show onto youtube featuring my song ‘Ford Cortina’ performed by Vivid Ultramarine, the recording project I worked on with Dean Catoggio and Julia Caluzzi in 2001.  Naturally, your readers should check this out!

++ You always used the same fonts for all your releases’ artwork, also for the video. It was sort of your trademark. Was there somehow a concept behind this?

This is a very astute observation.  There was not the wide variety of fonts that are readily available today.  The font itself is simply called ‘Bookman’ (even pre-dating ‘Bookman Old Style’) and was standard with the original Apple Macintosh (which we used to publish Zeeeeen!).

I liked the way the upper case ‘A’ joined itself to the next capital letter, something that was lost with Bookman Old Style.  The ampersand symbol was also quite strong-looking in Bookman although we rarely used it.

I can’t actually remember the font appearing in the video – and please don’t oblige me to check it! – except that it was brandished across our banner which may have appeared.  By the way, our banner was made by Maria and although simple (black paint on calico with Christmas lights around the perimeter) its size was startlingly effective.

++ What about gigs? Did you play many? Any particular ones that you still remember, favourite of yours?

There is no definitive account of how many times the band played.  I would guess 20 times but certainly not many more.  I know this seems a ridiculously small number but it wasn’t easy to organise.  There were only a handful of venues willing to host a ramshackle band like The Ampersands and all of us worked full-time so it was hard, for example, to be at The Punters Club Hotel at 4:00 p.m. on a Tuesday when the guy who booked bands wanted to meet with anyone looking for gigs.

It’s hard to pick out a ‘favourite’ gig, although I remember packing my guitar away one night after a gig at the Empress Of India and thinking that it was the best we’d ever played.  It was probably in 1993 but it’s likely the gig is not documented.  I do remember supporting The Cannanes at the Richmond Club Hotel three days before we started recording the second album; we played very tight and I remember spying Stephen O’Neil in the crowd and reading a look of wonder and surprise in his expression.  There are a couple of photos of it located on The Ampersands’ Facebook page (with me wearing a somewhat tacky but strikingly vivid waistcoat I’d bought at Camden Lock Market).

There were, of course, other memorable incidents not directly relating to the music.  At our first gig as a four-piece, the boys from Crabstick donned an elephant suit and languidly swayed through the crowd, trunk swinging.  I’m not sure who was the back half of the elephant.

Another time, after Andrew had left the band and Dean Catoggio was playing bass for us, we were first up at the Empress and then relaxed with a beer to watch the next band – who we’d never seen nor met before.  “That guy’s bass looks a bit like yours”, I said to Dean.  He moved closer to the stage for a better look and came back saying something along the lines of “that is my fucking bass”.  The guy had rifled through our stuff mid-set after one of his own strings broke.  We were annoyed because he didn’t have the courtesy to ask and had clearly, unlocked, unbuckled, restrapped and assumed temporary ownership of a valuable piece of equipment.  There was nearly a fist fight as Dean, Kim and I confronted the guy.  Said he, “hey man, show some professionalism, we had to play on for our fans”.  It was laughable.

By the way, all the venues I’ve mentioned are located in our hometown, Melbourne.  Sadly, we didn’t ever play anywhere else.

++ When and why did you decided to split in 1994?

There is a long story or a short answer.  In the interests of discretion I’ll simply say things weren’t working out.

++ And then you came back in 1996 as a recording entity? Right? How did that work?

Tim Alborn contacted me some time after the band parted ways.  He was winding up Harriet and was putting together a final compilation CD featuring many of the bands he’d released.  He had asked to use two songs.

We had plenty of unreleased recorded material but I had written a song I was pretty excited about called ‘Napier Jane’.  At this stage I was catching up with both Dean Catoggio and Kim Lester regularly and suggested we rehearse it to see how it sounded.  It must have seemed quite odd to them because I had a very clear idea of the end product which was to feature dual female backing vocals, violins and a long outro, none of which I could effectively articulate or demonstrate.

Soon after, I caught up with an old acquaintance Roger Russell, a long-time friend of Stan Emmerson and founding member of The Drought (a band whose final incarnation included Bart Cummings and Kerrie Bolton from Cats’ Miaow and Hydroplane).  Roger had an early digital studio which he was yet to fully master, so I use the phrase “it was fun” with caution.  ‘Napier Jane’ was recorded over several weeks in 1996 in at least three different studios and I was really happy with the result.  Tim generously included it, along with its B-side ‘Affected’ (a song written by Julia Caluzzi), on ‘Friendly Society’.

Buoyed by the ‘bigger’ sound, I eventually cobbled together a band of good people – including original drummer Kim Lester and incumbent bass player Dean Catoggio – to record four more songs in 2000.  As well as myself, Kim and Dean, we were joined by Jessica Fry on violin, Ian Finlay on electric guitar, and my partner Leisal Florien helping with some backing vocals.  All of these people had played on ‘Napier Jane’ four years earlier.  The recordings made at Dean’s private studio turned out to be the final productive venture of The Ampersands.

++ Are you all still in touch with the classic lineup? If so, what do you do these days? Do you have any hobbies other than music?

Sadly, no.  I’m still close friends with Dean and less frequently catch up with Kim.

During my time in The Ampersands I was holding down a full-time job in the finance industry, a career that only wound-up in 2011.  It was fun in the early days, an industry with much camaraderie and loyalty.  More recently… well, let’s just say it no longer aligned to my values.

I am therefore currently the full-time carer of three school-aged offspring variously aged between 17 and 6.  My partner – and their mother – is a full-time student and lives away on campus during the week so it’s an interesting role reversal.  I’ve had lots of time to begin archiving those heady days of the early 1990s.

I cannot say for sure whether my musical career is over.  I’d like to think not but who knows?

++ Thanks a lot Darren. One last question. In retrospective, what would you say were the biggest highlights of The Ampersands? And if you could, would you repeat The Ampersands experience all over again?

It’s easy to say of course I would repeat The Ampersands’ experience, but then just as easy to make sure I’d change bad decisions made along the way!

The overwhelming highlight has been the people associated with the band.  This encompasses close friends, many of whom have since lost contact, those who were critical to the performance, both live and recorded, and those who helped having our music heard.  I know this sounds just as corny as lines from a back of a postcard (refer above) but honestly that’s what drives me.

It was particularly special to be able to work at something creative with my then-partner Maria.  I probably didn’t value that as much as I should’ve at the time.

You didn’t ask me about a ‘lowlight’.  Naturally it would be that it all had to end sometime.  But then again, meeting people like you means that it really doesn’t.


The Ampersands – Tell Me What I Can Do


Thanks so much to Simon Howles for the interview! I wrote about The Lowthers not so long ago and Simon was kind enough to get in touch and answer all these questions immediately. Sit down, and read about this obscure Manchester band from the late 80s, a band that included Roger Quigley from The Montgolfier Brothers.

++ Hi Simon! Thanks a lot for the interview. Were The Lowthers based in Manchester? Where are you based now?

The Lowthers were indeed based in the Manchester/Salford area, which is where I still live.

++ Was The Lowthers your first band?

The Lowthers were formed by the merger of two other bands. I was in a band called The Pop Stars with Frank (the guitarist) it was just the two of us and we only did one gig and a couple of demo tapes. The other band was called Of That Ilk from which Roger (drums) and Julian (bass) came. They got as far as supporting the Fall at a couple of shows. I knew Roger from college and when his band lost a couple of key personnel who went away to study at University, he suggested pooling our resources. I seem to remember me and Frank had already discussed amongst ourselves that this might be a good idea anyway, so it all fell together from there I think.

++ Why the name The Lowthers? Were there any other names that you considered?

The Lowthers were minor characters in the soap opera Coronation Street – Dr and Mrs Lowther. I think we were trying to tap into that Northern “kitchen sink” ethic that The Smiths used to great effect. It was difficult not to be influenced by the Smiths in mid/late eighties Manchester. The Lowthers line-up actually did a couple of gigs as Of That Ilk before we came up with a name that we were satisfied with. I think I decided I disliked the name pretty quickly after we changed it…I suspect the rest of the band did too. It’s not a very original name.

++ Who were the members of the band and how did you knew each other?

As mentioned already there was me and Fran, who lived near one another in South Manchester. I knew Roger from art college and we shared a liking for certain bands (mainly the Smiths). Julian was quite young and answered an advert for a bass player for Of That Ilk…I think…I’m not not sure. He left after about 6 months, as I think his parents thought that rock and roll wasn’t a good career move (good advice) and was replaced by Brendan. Brendan knew Frank somehow…I can’t remember where he knew him from.

++ What other bands from your town did you like at the time? How was the scene back then?

Manchester had a very healthy music scene in the eighties. If you liked indie music, it was arguably THE best place to be at the time. Personally I liked The Smiths, New Order, James, Stone Roses, Railway Children, Easterhouse, Laugh, The Fall, Happy Mondays etc. When the Lowthers started things were very much indie, but by the time we finished the beginnings of what would be rather dubiously tagged “Madchester” was starting to take shape.

++ How come you didn’t have a proper release?

No one fancied putting a record out for us, quite simply. We didn’t have a manager to take care of that side of things, and so concentrated on sending out our pretty shoddy demo tapes to various local labels. I remember pestering Playtime records – Paula (who ran it) damned us with faint praise and said we sounded like a poor quality Smiths…which we did much of the time. I think…and this is me reaching into a memory that is pretty vague…we were looking to build a following but we never quite had the momentum behind us.

++ I do know at least a friend of mine that owns a demo tape of yours. How many demo tapes did you made? Do you remember those recording sessions?

I’d be interested to know what is on your friend’s demo. I can’t remember how many demos we did. We went into the studio a couple of times, but we also recorded some demos in Rogers front room. I remember a review in the Manchester Evening News (they did a local demos review section) describing one as sounding like it was “recorded in a lake”. I can remember the two studio sessions – Mark E Smith funded the first one and showed up to offer an opinion. The second one was right at the end of our time as a band, and I remember it was done as a three piece, with me switching to guitar and vocals.

++ I wrote about you not so long ago on my blog, especially championing the song “Sylvia”. What a song! Was it based in a real Sylvia? What’s the story behind this song?

You’d have to ask Fran about that, as he wrote that one on his own. Myself, Fran and Roger all wrote songs…occasionally collaborating, but that one was music and lyrics entirely by Fran. If I may offer any insight into it at all, I would say that it’s in that same tradition of haunting songs as “Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” or “Yes It Is” inasmuch as it’s a “hymn to an other-worldly woman” – I don’t really want to offer any more than that as I believe it’s probably quite personal to Fran.

++ And how come you appeared on the “The Disparate Cogscienti” compilation that Mark E Smith was putting together?

Roger lived on the next street to Mark Smith in the Sedgley Park district of Manchester. My recollection is that he would pester him. Hence our description as “Fine British Mitherers” – I understand that the word mither isn’t well know outside these parts, but it basically means to pester, annoy, bother etc…

The NME review described us as the “only half decent thing” on the compilation…more faint praise! It also mentioned us being out of tune…which we were. And I think it’s too fast as well…

++ Aside from that you participated in the “Are You Ready” tape compilation with “Whoose Afraid”. How did that came about?

Now that I really don’t remember. Whoose Afraid was one of mine, although I’ve no idea whether the spelling of Whoose was intentional or not. It was recorded in the studio session when we were a three piece, I’m pretty sure of that.

++ You also sent me another song called “Loyalty”. Where did that song appear?

I’m not sure it ever saw the light of day beyond the band’s inner circle – as we collapsed shortly after it was recorded, so I’m not sure how it ended up on the internet. That was one of Roger’s tunes, although the original arrangement was much slower (and better in my opinion) but we disco’d it up a bit after spending a few weeks re-evaluating the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

++ How many more songs did you have? Which one was your favourite?

We had about a dozen songs…maybe more. There’s some I’m sure I’ve forgotten. I always liked playing Sylvia, Whoose Afraid and Loyalty. There was one called Up Out and Away which I liked, What’s Wrong With Jumping? was our usual live opener, and at the last gig we did a tune that I titled Rhombus which I liked because it had a bit of a groove to it and grooves and beats were coming in by that point. Sadly no live tape exists of that final gig…well if it does, I don’t have it.

++ You played some gigs before disbanding. Which gigs were your favourite and why? Any particular anecdotes you could share?

I enjoyed the last gig we did, simply because I remember we played well. We did a gig at York University which was quite funny – doing the whole “band on tour” stuff for the first time, getting a dressing room, and a rider (four cans of bitter) and larking about having photos taken on the campus. The first gig was did as the Lowthers was a real horrorshow as we were out of tune really badly. Guitar not tuned to the bass and me singing somewhere in between. Added to which, the other bands we played with had a loud and rowdy following that heckled us – we shouted back that the bands that they had come to see were shit. One of those bands was The Milltown Brothers, who went on to be quite popular, although I still maintain the opinion that I held about them when I was shouting on stage that night.

++ When and why did you decide to call it quits? Are you all still in touch? What did you all do after?

We fell apart through a whole load of petty shit that involved girlfriends and other teenage jealousies. Fran voiced an opinion that my singing wasn’t as good as it should be, so that may have contributed as well. Fran left the band, I tried to keep us together as a three-piece but it fizzled out. Me and Fran remained aloof for a couple of years, but we became good pals again without really acknowledging what had happened. He still records tunes, and I’m still in touch with him, but don’t see him as much as I should. I’ve kept in contact with Roger and even done a fair bit of music with him. He’s a very talented musician and records as Quigley, At Swim Two Birds and the wonderful Montgolfier Brothers – very popular in Spain and France I believe. He’s on Spotify if you’ve never heard his stuff – I even played trombone on one of his numbers. I’ve been in various bands since those days – a good live band called Lovewood that did a lot of gigs on the local pub and club circuit, and I was most recently showing off my drumming skills in a Joy Division tribute band (Joy Diversion – we’re on youtube somewhere)

As for Julian and Brendan – I have no idea, but I wish them well wherever they are.

++ Are you still involved with music? Do you have any other hobbies?

Yes, a little bit… see above. My other hobbies involve being a dad, reading history books, watching history documentaries and enjoying a good pint of bitter beer.

++ Looking back in time, what would you say was the biggest highlight of The Lowthers?

I suppose the highlight was just making music, being on stage, following my dream for a bit. The fact that the fame and fortune that I hoped for back then didn’t come along was definitely a blessing. As I’ve got older and read all the books by and about other bands I’ve come to realise that I would have hated it…loved it at first, but then really really hated it – I would’ve been a casualty that burnt out messily. So I’m glad that I dipped my toe into the water a tiny bit…I’m happy with that.

++ Let’s wrap it here, thanks a lot Simon. Anything else you’d like to add?

It’s been a pleasure remembering. I’m glad that you enjoyed the songs – we could have really used more people like yourself at our gigs.


The Lowthers – Sylvia


Melting, or fusion, is a physical process that results in the phase transition of a substance from a solid to a liquid. The internal energy of a substance is increased, typically by the application of heat or pressure, resulting in a rise of its temperature to the melting point, at which the rigid ordering of molecular entities in the solid breaks down to a less-ordered state and the solid liquefies. An object that has melted completely is molten.

It’s been a couple of weeks since last time I opened the dashboard of my blog. After cleaning the spam comments, replying the ‘real people’s’ comments, getting back to legendary bands that got in touch,  I can finally sit and try to write. While in the UK many people, well, more like 5 people, told me they follow the blog. Some of them said that they do it religiously, some said that they only care for the personal parts, and other said that they wish they had more time to read about it. Another friend asked me again about the book that would compile the blog. That idea is still haunting my head of course. It’s just that it requires so much time to put 500 worth of pages together and I can only wonder when I’ll be able to  lay them out and print them. Time. Time is of the essence.

Receiving these kind of compliments is nice. Especially as I always tend to think people won’t like reading long posts on the internet. Modern tests have shown that the attention span of people when reading articles on the internet is very short. I don’t blame them. We just like flipping and then navigating to something else. I don’t think I’m an amazing writer to keep everyone hooked after a couple of sentences either. So these compliments mean a lot. Especially at this time that it feels indiepop is not as exciting and “cool” as it was some years ago. I’m thankful for the interest. And I hope I keep blogging for a couple more years at least. I started blogging in 2004. And this particular blog was started in 2008. It’s amazing how time flies. I feel as young as I was then.

I wish I could do a review of Indietracks, my trip to Wales, and those few days in London. But I still have to digest it all. Organize the thoughts in my head. It feels so fresh that it makes me feel nostalgic about all those days of hugging and kissing in trains and coaches that parted from Cardiff central to castles and petit towns, the mud and the puddles and nasty shoes at Indietracks, and the last hours at a King’s Cross’ Travelodge. Can’t put it in words yet. It’s tough. It’s hard to be back at work after such wonderful days, picking up the routines where I left them, from going to the post office to buying whole wheat bread at the supermarket. Long gone are the traditional British heart attack breakfasts, with their eggs, beans, bacon, sausage and toast (add brown sauce, plenty), now I manage with a glass of OJ and another of pomegranate kefir. Wonder how come British people are not as fat as those people that stroll their shopping carts in Houston’s malls.

After coming back I got back into Cloudberry business. The most important activity of my days in New York, and Miami before. That and talking to a sweet tooth in Stockholm. This week there were two very important announcements, first of all is that the Earth First 7″ has a release date and it’s just around the corner. The fab black round slab with be out on July 30th. If you like Brighter, Harper Lee, Pinkie, Silver Screen, Fireflies (you know the drill), this is the record for you. Precious, elegant, and chiming, this record includes a song on each side of the vinyl and you can already pre-order it. Look for a Cloudberry Bugle on the day of it’s release if you want to read a bit more about it. And then the other great news is that The Spook School’s 7″ has been unveiled. You can head to the label site to check one of their songs and also pre-order it. The artwork for this single is gorgeous and was made by Canadian illustrator extraordinaire Anna Bron. Time to start saving kids. Cloudberry is pushing it this second half of the year!

Yes! Because on this second half the new fanzine and the Strange Idols CD should be out as well. And Nixon 7″.

At Indietracks I received a CD from Rupert from the A Turntable Revolution blog. He didn’t actually hand it to me, but to Michael from Pebble Records. And then Michael to Cris, and then finally to me. Rupert was kind enough to offer me a CD on a blog comment just before I left to the UK. The CD was to contain lots of obscure indiepop goodies. I didn’t see him at all during the festival. I guess we either watch different bands or we just cross paths and didn’t even notice. Indietracks is not THAT big you know. But lucky enough, on the last night, on that last train from Indietracks to Butterly station, when the train officer was cheering us and asking us to come again next year, and in the same carriage I boarded, I saw Rupert. And I was able to thank him personally. On this CD, I would say I knew half of the bands, some of them I knew their music, but some others just by name. I guess the only good thing of coming back to the US, aside from going to see Shonen Knife yesterday, was playing this CD over and over this week. And it was the first sung that struck me immediately.

Sweet tooth: A great liking for sweet-tasting foods.

The song is “32 Sweet Teeth” by The Meltations. And it’s a fact that adults have 32 teeth whereas babies have 20.

At first listen the jangly and chirping guitar gives me goosebumps. And the vocals, I don’t know how to explain, they are just great. And while listening to it only something crosses my mind, the biggest sweet tooth I know. My girl in Stockholm. She who can skip lunch or dinner and just eat chocolate and jelly beans. Sugar and sugar, sticky fingers. Makes my day seeing her having all the sweets I can’t have. And her excitement over the British candy stores, colorful, and packed from the floor to the ceiling with all candies in different shapes and textures. Some wrapped and some not, waiting to be scooped in plastic bags and taken home for snacking the whole day. Makes me wonder how much happiness will bring to Alexandra when she sees the humongous American candy stores. She was overly impressed by the variety of candy at a Sainsbury’s! She tells me that in Sweden there’s not even half of the variety of candy you find in the UK. She takes her time picking which new candy she’ll try this day while we travel and hour on train to see some castles in a close-by town. One day she picks up Skittles, she’s never had them. These are not the traditionally wrapped in red ones. But in orange. I’ve had had them back in the day. She wonders how they taste. It is very strange for me when she tells me that she can’t find them in Sweden. Even in Peru I could find these! I tell her that they are chewable candy with a hard coating, all of different colors. She gets a bit disappointed when she notices that the center part of all of them is white. She thought they were colored even inside, not just the coating. Things a sweet tooth minds. At first she doesn’t like them much. Then they grow as an addiction. And she takes a bag to Sweden. Sadly the other day she tells me she has run out. If it wasn’t for her mean postman that keeps stealing every single package I’ve sent for the last couple of months, a huge overload of Skittles would be waiting at her front door.

The song makes me grin. I think of her. The distance. The fucking distance. And the visas, and the lack of vacations. The lack of sweet.

Who were the Meltations? Of course the internet keeps quiet about it, as if saving all the clues to itself, hoping that no one uncovers this mystery. The best clue is that on Popsike.com there are two eBay listings. One dating of 2007 when this 7″ went for 80 pounds, and then one in 2010 when it sky-rocketed to 225 pounds sterling. Who might have paid those crazy prices? I always assume is the Japanese.

There are a couple of clues if you keep digging. The B-side to this fantastic 7″ is a song called “I’ll Take It As A Compliment “. Does it have the same amazing jangly guitars as their A-side counterpart? One day I hope I’ll have the chance to listen to it. And the clues start getting thinner and thinner. The record was put out in 1987 and it was a self-release, catalog number MEL01. Recorded at Goldsmiths College. Safe bet to say they were Londoners?

The cover photography, of a man holding a heart-shaped box full of chocolates, was taken by Douglas Cape. I think of myself as the cover star for some reason. The record was mastered by David Burnand who is credited for writing and arranging “Points on the Curve” by Wang Chung. Odd.

The most important clue comes from the band members names: Andrew Newcombe, Heilco Van Der Ploeg, John Penfold and Matthew Graham. And it’s about Heilco Van Der Ploeg who I manage to shed some light. He seems to still be in London and ran a club called Club Montepulciano.  It seems that along this club he also had a band that played in it. With it he released a couple of CDs, “The Autumn/Winter Collection Volume 1” and “The Autumn/Winter Collection Volume 2”. He participates in them, on vocals, writing and arranging. Not sure what’s the sound of them, but I believe it’s some sort of cabaret stuff.

This is what I found out about the club on Wikipedia:

Club Montepulciano was a critically acclaimed lounge and cabaret club-night institution that ran themed events across a number of venues in London, with guest appearances in the South of England and across Europe, from 1993 to 2004. Acting as a launch pad for new talent, the club influenced the emerging cabaret and burlesque scenes.As a musical event, Club Montepulciano was founded on swinging cocktail tunes from nightclubs and ballrooms of a bygone era. Its themed nights had different retro vibes, influenced by icons like James Bond and the Playboy clubs of the 1960s, with clubbers dressing in the style of each event.Venues graced by Club Montepulciano included the Hanover Grand, Café de Paris, the Connaught Ballrooms, Turnmills, the Kensington Roofgardens, Brockwell Lido, the Rivoli Ballroom, the Embassy Club, Glastonbury Festival, Glyndeborne, Pacha’s flagship venue in Madrid, Dingwalls, Eastborne Wintergardens, the original Brighton Concord, The Water Rats, Madam Jojo’s, the Scala club at Kings Cross, the Eve Club, the Blackheath Halls, and The Camden Centre.Club Montepulciano’s cabaret and comedy acts included The League of Gentlemen (before they were famous), Mackenzie Crook from The Office as Charlie Cheese, Jackie Clune as Karen Carpenter, Matt Lucas from Little Britain and Shooting Stars, Amy Lamé in collaboration with ‘Duckie’, Ursula Martinez, The Tiger Lillies (Shockheaded Peter), Men in Coats, Mike Flowers Pops, The Lorraine Bowen Experience, Tina C and Dr Stuart (The Fifth Element), and the UK Latin American Ballroom Dance Champions.Complementing these performers were circus acts, magicians, and impersonators. Club Montepulciano also hosted its own in-house casino, talk-a-oke, the Flirtation Tank and Minuscule of Sound, as well as the in-house band Montepulciano.Club Montepulciano was described as one of the “199 things you have to do before you’re a real Londoner” by Time Out magazine in 2004. The demand for its music grew into Club Montepulciano Recordings and subsequently Freshly Squeezed Music. The band Hooverphonic recorded a song called “Club Montepulciano”.

Quite a change from his early days as a jangle master, huh? Still, the club stopped in 2004, and I wonder where did Heilco go? I wonder where all the members went after The Meltations. I wonder if they had any more songs. How many copies of this 7″ were pressed. Why it is so rare? Why people don’t know about it’s existence being SO GOOD? There’s plenty of mystery and questions to solve about them. I hope you all can help me.


The Meltations – 32 Sweet Teeth


So when next Sunday comes around I won’t be waking up in Astoria, NYC, but in Mansfield, in the English midlands. Hopefully the weather is beautiful, something around 18 degrees, unlike here where I’ve been toasting myself feeling as if I was in Miami all over again. I’ll be thinking of the previous day, and I’ll be sad that this will be my last day at Indietracks. I’ll make up my mind and convince myself that I have to get the best out of this day, even if the warm beer and the greasy hamburgers try to prove me wrong. I’ll have a good shave, have a nice breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant and wait for people to gather at the front door in hopes of sharing a cab. The ride to Indietracks will be slow, discussing again which bands were our favourites the previous day and which we are looking forward the most for today. Sunday. Po! got it wrong. Sunday always comes around. And too soon.

My early Sunday was perfect until the other day. The good news was The Spook School were added to the lineup. Echo Lake wasn’t going to participate of the festival anymore due to the loss of one of it’s member. It’s sad news, but was happy to get to see The Spook School who will be part of the Cloudberry family very soon with a wonderful 7″. The terrible part was they were scheduled at a very delicate time when my beloved Electrophonvintage are playing. How to split myself in two? Electrophonvintage starts a bit earlier, at 13:20, at the church. That’s 20 minutes earlier than The Spook School. To start, I’ll be there. Sadly won’t be able to sit at the front row as I may need to leave before they are done with their set. And that annoys me for two reasons, one is that I want to see they play their whole set and second I would love to grab their setlist. If anyone can grab it for me? I will probablyy have to stay until 13:45, 13:50 if I can stress the time. And then leave the church stage and hastily head to the outdoor stage. Hopefully The Spook School has been slow at setting their stuff up, taking forever  to start, and I won’t have missed much. Their gig starts at 13:40. Hopefully I won’t have missed the tracks that will appear on the 7″, I would love to record them on video.

With The Spook School finishing by 14:20 it already clashes with another band I wanted to see, The Sunbathers on the train. And as you know, the train leaves and you can’t catch up with the gig if you didn’t board the train at the scheduled time. So no more Sunbathers for me. And I feel really disappointed. Stupid clashes. I do hope that The Sunbathers, as many of the train bands, play an impromptu  gig at the merch tent. That’s what’s been happening the previous years, and I would be very happy if they did. I don’t want to miss them. At least I want to hear a couple of their beautiful songs.

As this is the case, at 14:20 I’ll go to see some French flair, some gorgeous indiepop courtesy of Doggy. A couple of weeks ago I was listening non-stop a burned CD Fabien from Anorak Records handed me in Madrid. It was a demo by Doggy, with songs from his last album. It was a total surprise. The songs are fresh, catchy, and exude indiepoptasticness. If I had the song names, I’d write them here, and I would try to peek on the band’s setlist while they are playing to check if they will perform these songs. I’m curious to see how many English people would come and see something that they don’t understand, how open minded they are, and how much of a good taste they have. Because, if you didn’t hop on the train for The Sunbathers, you MUST be at Doggy at the church stage.

At 15:00 I head for a warm beer, to the indoor stage. From the bar I’ll see Toniee’s long hair on stage. It’s not The Parallelograms, but one of my most beloved bands. One of those little bands I liked so much back in the early 2000s when I had just discovered indiepop, Velodrome 2000. To be honest, I don’t know how popular they are, but I do hope I’m not the only one singing along to “Bobby Gillespie is a Virgin”, “Charity Shopping” or “Sindy Sex Aid”. They must be somewhat known, they, afterall, recorded a Peel Session. But you never know, this is an unfair world. I never thought I was going to see them live. I feel lucky enough to be here, and I feel grateful to whoever asked them to play.

Now there’s a little break. And I notice I haven’t had any lunch. It’s a bit late for lunch. But perhaps this is the best time to grab a bite. Or maybe not. I know there is going to be a huge line to get in to the church. The Hobbes Fanclub are playing and since releasing the split 3″ on Cloudberry, they’ve become way more popular. So probably the church will be packed. So I better be early, on time, and get a good sit. In my book, I still can’t picture The Hobbes Fanclub as a live band, you have to understand that when I worked with them, it was Leon and Fabi, both of them living thousand of miles away and working their songs through the internet. Now Fabi is not part of the band anymore and the band is a three-piece based in Bradford. In any case, in my book they are also one of the bands that I think will be one of the festival surprises.

Big break now. Big, in Indietracks terms, means something around an hour. 18:20 everyone heads to the church, or at least everyone that knows what GREAT indiepop is, and get to see the lush Love Dance. How many years since they released their album? Or how many years since they put out that 7″ that bowled us all over. So many, more than five definitely. And even though we thought they were no more, that they had split, they are playing at Indietracks. And who knows how, why, or any other question you want to ask, but I don’t care. This might be one of the most special gigs at the festival. It does feel by this time that I have spent an awful lot of time at the church. Perhaps it’s my subconscious too, that wants me to sit and not get tired, at least not yet.

When Love Dance are almost done, hastily I have to go see Language of Flowers. I was saying in my previous post that there were two bands that convinced me that I had to go to Indietracks this year. One was Liechtenstein. The second was Language of Flowers. The previous years I’ve seen a couple of times Help Stamp Out Loneliness and been systematically asking Colm about the unreleased Language of Flowers songs (there are 3 as far as I know, and they are GREAT), and when they were reforming. Half-jokingly I would instigate. But never thought this was actually going to happen. Why would it? They released just one album, a perfect album, a cult album if you ask me. It was the best indiepop record in a long time and everyone loved it. I think it’s just the cherry on the top of the cake this gig at Indietracks. They are closing the circle, and this might as well be the best gig at the whole Indietracks, even though Colm probably say they were shit. “Songs About You” or “Botanic Gardens”, I do hope they are allowed to play an encore. And I want that setlist.

Sadly, if you notice I have missed The June Brides. And this hurts a lot. They are a favourite band of mine, a big favourite. But they clash, and they clash with other favourites. And I’m only skipping them because I’ve saw them before. True, sans the trumpets, as Phil pointed me out. But I can’t do much. The trumpets are what make The Junies one of the most amazing bands of indiepop history. They are glorious, they can make Jericho fall. But with regret, I have to skip. I hope Phil forgives me.

After Language of Flowers things should run smoothly for all of us festival goers. You get Monochrome Set and then The Vaselines. Seems very straight-forward from now on. Who would choose any other band playing at that same time?

Then at the marquee, getting our shoes dusty and trying not to trip with the big boulders that pop up from the ground, we will dance to our Spanish friends Jorge and Miguelink. Just one request, not too much 60s Jorge!!

Some guy will shout “last train”. We will be heart-broken. Drunk too. We’ll give hugs to the right, to the left, everywhere. We say goodbye. Until next time, whenever that is. Good friends this is farewell. Maybe some of you I will see next week in London. Most probably I won’t see the rest for a long time. But it was great to see you. It was a fabulous weekend. And with that memory we head back to Mansfield. For the last night in the Midlands. Next day we have to leave early to Cardiff. For our vacations of castles, sheep, and botanic gardens.


The Golden String is a sequence of 0’s and 1’s that is very closely related to the Fibonacci Numbers. Other names for it are The Fibonacci Rabbit sequence or The infinite Fibonacci word. I’m not sure what the point of it is, but math scholars salivate when seeing it. But this time I’m heading all the way to the Netherlands for our obscure band of the week. To Maastricht to be precise.

Maastrich is located in the southern part of the Dutch province of Limburg, of which it is the capital. It is widely known as a city of history, culture, local folklore, education. Furthermore, it has become known, by way of the Maastricht Treaty, as the birthplace of the European Union, European citizenship, and the single European currency, the euro. The name Maastricht is derived from Latin Trajectum ad Mosam (or Mosae Trajectum), meaning ‘crossing at the Meuse’, and referring to the bridge built by the Romans. The Latin name first appears in medieval documents and it is not known whether this was Maastricht’s official name during Roman times.

As far as I know the Golden Strings were active since 1981. Releasing their first record in 1983, a 12″ called “Budweiser Shuffle” on the Deng Deng Deng record label (catalog ES 46.782 M). The songs included were “Make Me Believe”, “Some Kind of Woman”, “Forward”, “She”, “Everybody Else” and “Budweiser Shuffle”. Their sound at this point wasn’t as poppy and fantastic as their later release. But still worth a listen. I think it’s easier to find this record than the other ones and it’s the only one I own. So keep an eye. This 12″ was recorded at Eurosound Studio’s Harveld. On Youtube the drummer Serge Van Dalsen’s sister has uploaded a couple of these if you want to have a listen.

The next release is a fantastic split 7″, shared with Buy Off the Bar (who were dutch as well), that includes two songs by the Golden Strings. The first one is a cracker and i’s called “My Life Is Like A Stanley Knife (Cut, Cut, Cut)”. It’s SO catchy, and it has this fabulous trumpets. I’m thinking of bands like Big Gun or How Many Beans Make Five while listening to them. The other song they contribute to this record is “Walked Out of That Door”. On the other hand, Buy Off the Bar participates with “February 6th” and “Silence”. This record was released on our favourite year, 1986, as a joint release by Deng Deng Deng records (catalog DENG 002) and Bang Bang Bang records (catalog BILLY 1). I’m guessing here that the first label belonged to The Golden Strings whilst the latter to Buy Off the Bar. The songs by The Golden Strings were recorded in Amsterdam at Oktopus Studio and again there are no band credits, so we don’t get to know the band members names.

The only other interesting fact on this record, that included a black and white 35×25 cm poster full of photos, are the running grooves etchings: on the Buy Off the Bar side it says “Bring Back The Buzzcocks” and on The Golden Strings side:  “We’re All Jump Boys”. Clearly big fans of the Undertones too. I’m looking for a copy of this one!

And last, but not least, my favourite song of theirs: “Tongue’s Too Big”. This track is a favourite of mine on Youtube, as I haven’t had the chance to find a copy of this record!, especially because of their trumpets, their glorious trumpets. Trumpets that do remind me of The Junies. Ah! Now I feel more terrible to miss them at Indietracks!! But yes, when you listen to this song you’ll understand. It sounds like a lost gem from C86 days in London, a song that should have been a single, a cult classic, but no, it ended up buried in a compilation record. Can you believe it? A song this good not having it’s own proper release? Life is never fair indeed.

“Tongue’s Too Big” appeared on the “13 Great Bands From The Low Lands “,  the second Noet Lachten records compilation.The album was financed by all the bands together; It included music from all over Holland except The Voners, who are Belgian guests. The catalog was NOET 4. The 12″ artwork is very strange, very artsy collage with two mouths half open, with the teeth showing. It looks a bit like a monster. Among the bands included in the compilation the only ones I’m familiar with are Buy Off the Bar and The Melting Eskimos who had a 7” on Meller Welle Produkte from Germany. This compilation was released in 1987.

And that’s about all I’ve been able to gather about this fantastic band. I believe they started as a new wave / punk pop band and as years went by their sound got more C86-ish. Their songs are fun and catchy, and also have that ramshackle element that I love. If you have any other information about Maastricht’s best, or if you happen to have extra copies of their records. Please get in touch! If you were in the band, please do too, it’d be fun to do an interview and learn more about you. I wonder if they had more songs. I’m sure they did.


The Golden Strings – Tongue’s Too Big