Thanks a thousand to Phil Ball for the interview. It’s been a while since I’ve been meaning to interview Phil and at last we got round to do it. Hopefully soon we’ll be able to do an interview about The Rileys and why not, Feverfew. And talking about Feverfew, there will be news soon about a compilation of all their recorded output! Keep an eye on this same blog!
++ Hi Phil! At last we get to do an interview! How are things going? Lots of traveling from what I hear?
Yes, we do, finally.
It is my real pleasure, I appreciate you asking me. I hope that I do not disappoint. 🙂
Here we go then.
Actually all is good with me, thanks! These days it’s pretty crazy, I am extremely busy as always…
Yes you are correct. I do travel a lot through my work. I am a Project Manager and work for a large Japanese electronics manufacturer, in the automotive industry.
Later this week I will be away for four days visiting Continental Europe, including visits to Germany, Poland and Slovakia then back to the UK for the weekend. Then I will be out to the Czech Republic for another four days during the following week.
There are too many early starts and far too many late finishes, unfortunately.
I’m not complaining, I appreciate the opportunities that my work has given me. I am lucky to have had the possibility to visit countries that perhaps I would never have had the chance to visit, amongst others China, Thailand and of course Japan plus I currently spend a lot of time in Eastern Europe.
However I really need a rest now so I am looking forward to my summer vacation and spending time with my family, just a few weeks away now.
++ So, just in between Feverfew and The Rileys, there was Are You Mr. Riley?. That was in 1989, right? How long did this formation/band last? Who were in the band?
After feverfew dissolved (I am still not sure the band ever really split up, we just stopped doing “it”..) I was approached by a very drunken Mike Cottle (Local guitarist) at an Anti Apartheid gig I was promoting at Reading Trade Union club. I think this would have been around September’89
Mike “told” me that I should form a band with him, he knew of me through feverfew and You Can’t Be Loved Forever, and insisted, in an alcohol fuelled stupor, and that we should work together. He had a number of songs and ideas which he wanted to progress and believed that I was the person that could help him develop them.
I just took this approach with a pinch of salt, a crazy drunken ramble, and did not expect to hear anymore.
Some days after this event I received a very nice letter from Mike apologising profusely for his drunken approach. .I took the plunge, phoned him, found we had lots of influences and ideas in common and we went from there.
We jammed around some of Mike’s ideas, decided it was workable and then went about forming the band. Vicky and Lloyd (feverfew vocalist and drummer respectively) were not playing at the time so I asked them come on-board.
Mike had a friend (Richard) who was also interested but had never sung in a band before and within a matter of weeks the band line up was in place and “Are you Mr. Riley?” was formed. This would have been around Oct’89
Some weeks later the line up was reinforced by Jason on guitar (also one time feverfew guitarist and my very close friend) and the band went from strength to strength. As you know the first demo songs were recorded December’89.
++ What was the main differences between this band and Feverfew and The Rileys?
Well, Are you Mr. Riley very soon became “The Rileys” as we got fed up with the “Which one is Mr. Riley then? Quips. People would walk away believing they had made the best joke ever, all we would do is grimace and want to punch them in the face (numerous times)….
Also The Rileys, as a name, seemed snappier and more appropriate (I guess the mould was made by another indie band with a surname as a band name…)
Therefore I guess the question to answer is “What was the difference between The Rileys and Feverfew?”
I remember reading a live review for feverfew that stated that feverfew was “uncompromisingly fragile” I guess this was a true reflection of the band based on the vision and genius of Keith and Paul and would be further explored and developed through their activities as Blueboy. Feverfew was generally mis-understood, shyness perceived as arrogance.
The Rileys were generally more upbeat and openly optimistic, punchier more raucous guitar pop, hearts worn on our sleeves (not sure if we were ever Indiepop..). The Rileys were essentially a live band that was where the main energy and drive came from. However our motivation, ideals and influences were not so different from those of feverfew, just the method of delivery.
++ Where does the name come from?
I would like to say it was the title of some obscure cult movie from the 1960’s or a line from a cool song / band, however the reality and truth of the matter is that the background is very un-cool.
Are you Mr. Riley is the name of a song which was sang by groups of girl guides around campfires…
I should try to explain….
The hall where we used to rehearse was also used by Girl Guides and Brownie troops, one day whilst we were tidying up (not very rock and roll behaviour I know) we found a songbook called “Songs for Elfins” and inside next to the classic “She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes” was a song called “Are you Mr. Riley”.
As the band had no name at that time it just kind of stuck and was adopted as the band name.
++ Did you play many gigs under this name? Any gigs in particular that you remember?
Yes quite a few but mainly in and around the local Reading area including one with Strawberry Story which was particularly good however things really started to take off after the change of name to “The Rileys”
As The Rileys we played many, many gigs including those on the university and college circuit including supporting The Buzzcocks, Carter USM, The Rain etc as well as our own headline gigs… The Rileys at that time were growing as a band and were starting to attract a regular live audience. Very soon we were being managed by Wayne who in his daily job was the accountant for Rough Trade records, this opened many doors for us.
++ I was wondering, why didn’t Keith Girdler join the band? He did help record the “Go On – Spoil Yourself” demo, right?
Actually no, Keith (and also Paul Blueboy) did not participate in the recording of “Go on, spoil yourself”. They were not part of The Rileys line up and not really involved in writing and performing with the band, however four of the band were actually ex-feverfew members. (I say not really however they were involved for the recording of the Happiness EP, this is where the confusion starts, more on this later…)
One of the reasons that feverfew ceased to exist, apart from the general apathy and negativity towards the band at the time, was that Keith had a new partner and was generally spending less of his time in Reading and more in Brighton. Around this time Paul was going steady plus I was in the process of getting married so our priorities just changed and the band became less important.
This meant that the gap between band rehearsals became wider and wider up until the point that they just did not happen anymore. By the time of my wedding in July’89 we were all still friends but no longer a band..
So by Autumn’89 I and the other feverfew members had time on our hands and when the chance came to form “Are you Mr. Riley?” everybody jumped at the opportunity, this line up lasted until late 1990, basically the line up consisted of the four members of feverfew, Phil (Bass), Llloyd (Drums), Vicky (vocals) and Jason (Guitar), that were not Paul and Keith plus two friends Mike (Guitar) and Richard (Vocals).
I also had the idea for, and started working on You Can’t Be Loved Forever around this timing, Paul and Keith started working and writing songs together on an ad-hoc basis due to Keith spending more of his time in Brighton plus Paul was working with a new band “She’s Gone”. Clear Skies from the first Blueboy album was actually a song written with “She’s Gone” (You can find the original version on YCBLF No. 3)
Keith was always very supportive of “Are you Mr. Riley / The Rileys” and would regularly write to me and the others with words of encouragement and support plus he provided a great deal of advice for the band..
Going back to your original question(s). I can understand your comments and why you may have thought Keith was part of The Rileys. It is a little confusing as the relationship between feverfew, The Rileys and also Blueboy over the life of the bands was quite incestuous.
In April ’91 Paul played guitar and Keith sang backing vocals on the two Rileys tracks of the “Happiness EP” however they were never members of The Rileys.
Both The Rileys and feverfew joined together to play a joint/split gig at the Reading After Dark Club in Feb’91, this then extended to the idea for the recording session and finally the release of the Happiness EP on a Turntable Friend records.
Around this time the band (feverfew) was actually very close to reforming, united in grief for Jason who died in Jan ’91, it was a friendship rekindled and was a time of high creativity borne out of an extremely tragic event.
If you look at the band line ups all three bands have included many of the same band members Some examples:- Lloyd was drummer in feverfew, The Rileys and Blueboy, when Lloyd left Blueboy he was replaced by Martin Rose who was The Rileys drummer but also played with Blueboy part time.
Cath Close who replaced Vicky as female vocalist in The Rileys also later sang with Blueboy.
Also Keith included the acoustic version of “I can wait” as part of a compilation LP that was released on his Porrits Hill record.
++ Were those 4 songs on that demo the only songs you recorded?
No actually this line up of Are you Mr. Riley / The Rileys made two recording sessions, the four tracks on “Go on, spoil yourself” which was released on the YCBLF imprint plus a second session which included Ophelia’s Days and an instrumental called “Funky”.
“Ophelia’s days” was included on the “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, We have lift off” joint flexi with Home & Abroad,
You can also find many of the tracks on various compilation tapes including Grimsby Fishmarket. Both tracks from the second recording session were also included on YCBLF no.2
++ So the cassette cover, Elvis Presley. Are you a big fan?
Yes absolutely, I am a fan but I would not classify myself as a massive fan. I always remember the Elvis songs and also the movies as being part of my childhood.
The young Elvis was also extremely cool and iconic….
++ Would it be much to ask if you tell me a bit about each of the tracks on that demo?
Yes of course, but remember the songs are from ‘89:-
Barriers of mine – a lament to the Conservative government and the constant string of broken promises and lost opportunities (“How did you get there, I do not know. Some stupid people with no brains to go” / “Why did you do that you really messed it up, I’m crying for change but there’s just no luck” )
A song that is still relevant today based on the current UK political climate
I can wait – a song about unrequited love and the waiting, in vain, for a second chance (“The distance is measured by the heart and not by the yard”)
I’ll love you tomorrow – “I’ll love you tomorrow, but never today” a continuation of the theme from “I can wait”
++ “Recorded on The Refuge”. How did that go? Nice studio?
When you are a young band with little or no cash, is any studio nice? Unfortunately the lack of money does not give you a great deal of options. To coin a phrase “ You get what you pay for”
All joking aside, actually “The Refuge” was not bad, many of the Reading bands of the time “Pumpkin Fairies, Shelleys Children, Home & Abroad were recording there so the reputation of the recording engineer and studio was fairly high.
The general quality of recordings was pretty good and the cost was reasonable so overall, all things considered, the result was not too bad. The band were quite happy with this particular demo especially as the songs and also the band itself was still very new when this demo was recorded
++ I agree with you, Vicky’s voice is so underrated. I think it’s pretty special. Which song that she sings, in general, would you say it’s your favourite?
Actually many people underestimate or overlook the contribution that Vicky made to Feverfew as a band. If you listen to the feverfew recordings you will see (hear) that her backing vocals and harmonies really work well when entwined with Keith’s voice and really add “something” a bit special.
The Rileys was Vicky’s chance to shine as a singer rather than just being “the backing singer”, she constantly delivered great vocal performances both live and in the studio.
From my point of view I Can Wait is a personal favourite as is Time Will Pass, there are also two unreleased Rileys songs in particular “By Believing” and “Real Life” where the vocals are stunning.
The last vocal break on the Feverfew track “All the things I gave to you” always makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Whenever I hear this part of the song it takes me back to the first time I heard this in the studio, Vicky had been working with Keith to develop the vocals and harmonies. We had never heard this part of the song and Vicky recorded it in one take. Serendipity, just fantastic….
++ How was Reading back then? Did you have to go to London to see bands? Or would they come to your town too? What were the best places to hang out in Reading back then?
Reading was always (and still is) famous for the Annual August Bank Holiday music festival so I think that at least one time per year you had the chance to see some big names.
Other than that the chance to see a “good” band playing their own material was few and far between. Unfortunate it was quite easy to see very poor quality “Pub rock” bands though.
Around this 88 – 91 timing the number of venues was actually quite limited. The “Paradise” later “After Dark” Club was always good, I saw numerous “smaller” indie bands such as Brilliant Corners, Jim Jiminee, and Rhythm Sisters there.
The Top Rank (which historically was the main “mid-size” venue) became a bingo hall so the only chance to see “mid” size bands was at the Hexagon and also at the Majestic, I remember seeing The Stone Roses there back in the day….
There was good and bad for this, originally The Stone Roses were booked for the “After Dark” and feverfew were scheduled to support however the “Baggy / Madchester” scene was just gaining momentum subsequently this gig was then cancelled and some months later The Stone Roses played the Majestic (significantly bigger venue) with Sometimes Sartre and International Rescue in support. So we missed the opportunity of the “dream” support gig….
Reading University often put on bands, I saw The Smiths for the first time at the University.. I also saw Public Image Limited there. One of my claims to fame is being told by John Lydon “ You got what you want, now F*@K off!…
There were some smaller venues and hang outs such as The Purple Turtle, Cartoons and Ninos (the latter being an Italian restaurant that put on bands during the week) so the scene for local “Indiepop” bands at the time such as Sometimes Sartre, Pumpkin Fairies was OK but not great.
On a number of occasions there would be the need to go into London to see a band – every time I saw the Wedding Present it would involve a car journey into London….
++ And what about if I go as a tourist Phil? Is there anything worth visiting in Reading? Doesn’t seem that much of a touristy city, is it?
Historically Reading prospered based on the 3B’s, Bulbs, Biscuits and Beer however those days are long past and nothing in terms of these industries exists any longer
Reading is a town that has expanded as the property costs in London accelerated, due to the good train links to London it has become a “significant” commuter hub.
Not much to talk of in Reading in terms of a reason for visiting, you can no longer visit the old Abbey for example. However we do have a museum which is the only one in the world (I believe) to have a copy of the complete Bayeux Tapestry.
Other famous things, Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in Reading gaol and of course we have the annual Music festival. It is also the birth town of Ricky Gervais and Kate Winslett as well as the home of “Cemetery Junction” as immortalised in the recent film of the same name written by Ricky Gervais.
Unfortunately Reading now seems to be a place that people just pass through on the way to somewhere else…
++ Anyhow, so what happened, when did you all become The Rileys?
As advised previously “Are you Mr. Riley” very soon became “The Rileys”, the first incarnation of the band split in late 90.
The second line up of The Rileys was established after the recording of the Happiness EP in ‘91.
Just before Jason died in Jan’91 we were already working and writing new songs together and were joined by new guitarist / vocalist Simon Tarry with the intention of forming a new Rileys line up. “Time will pass” was written during these sessions and was the ever last song written with Jason
After Jason died, after a great deal of heart searching, Simon and I finally decided to carry on playing, recruited Cath Close, Martin Rose (later both Blueboy members) and some other friends. We wrote a brand new set with a newer “different” sound and subsequently recorded “Whirlygig” for Elefant Records.
++ Back then you were very involved with indiepop, releasing the fantastic compilation series “You Can’t Be Loved Forever”. Two questions. How did you get into this kind of music? And second, what made you do extra stuff? you were already in a band!
Mmm, interesting question and a difficult one to answer concisely.
For me it was just a natural progression. I first got into music through the discovery of punk and records back in 1977 when I was an 11 year old.
Luckily enough one of my friends brothers was one of the original “Punk Rockers” and used to have a cool and reasonably sized record collection. We would often go to his house and play all these great (and not so great..) records. This then led into a discovery of “Independent” record labels and many wondrous bands including Joy Division / Factory records, plus I started tuning into John Peel etc. The rest as they say is History….
Finally it lead me to pick up a bass guitar at the age of 17 and then start to play in bands.
YCBLF was conceived after I bought a compilation tape called “Rewind” at a gig (I think it was at one of the many Wedding Present gigs).
I liked the concept (It was the first time to see a good quality tape in terms of appearance, sound quality and the bands, and all at a reasonable price) and therefore thought it would be a good vehicle to promote the “good” bands from Reading and give them an opportunity to try and reach a broader audience.
So the idea was to mix bands / music from the Reading area with other “unknown” or lesser known but good bands and to promote the concept as an opportunity for people to discover some great new bands and for the bands themselves to reach a new and wider audience.
I think that effect of YCBLF was quite beneficial and helped to open up doors, I know that it had a positive impact for Feverfew and also for Home & Abroad and Shelleys Children..
From being in feverfew I could understand first hand the frustrations and limitations that many bands had and the obstacles they faced to promote and to try and get themselves heard. Therefore I wished to do something positive to pro-actively overcome the restrictions and create a new fan base and opportunity, it was a “win – win” situation.
At this time there was a fantastic “fanzine – do it yourself” culture so things expanded and developed very quickly with the network of bands, fanzines, record labels and compilation tapes.
There were many compilation tapes available but I used to get extremely frustrated due to the low quality recordings and the general lack of care and attention for the “product” so I made a conscious effort to ensure a good quality product at a reasonable price (The lesson learned from ”Rewind”).
Hopefully this answers your questions.
++ Oh! and yeah, how much work did it take to make those compilations? How long will it take to get all the songs together? And were there any fantastic bands that you would have loved to have on your tapes that for a reason or another they didn’t appear on them?
It would take a number of months to prepare the tapes, from the writing of letters requesting tracks, making the booklet through to the final production of the tape it would take 3 – 4 months.
I also use to master all the tracks onto DAT and then had the tapes “Professionally produced” at a duplication company to ensure “good quality” tapes. Generally I am pleased to state that the quality of the YCBLF tapes was to a higher level than many of its peers.
From what I can remember I do not believe than anybody turned down the opportunity / request, so basically I “got” everyone that I asked. I was especially pleased to have included Blue Summer, The Penny Candles, Greenhouse, Tramway and also the first recording of Chelsea Guitar (Paint me in blue) as part of the collection
++ Alright, one last question, can you cook Phil? What are your favourite dishes? It’s lunch time here in the US and I was hoping you’d inspire me…
I’m pretty hopeless in the kitchen, however I can make a stupendous spaghetti bolognaise and generally can follow a recipe with a reasonable result. Can I cook? Kind of…. You are always welcome to join!
++ Thanks again Phil! Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for the opportunity to do this, I hope my comments and reply is not a disappointment for you….
I really love what you are doing with the record label, fanzine and blog. People may not always like what you do and also what you say but at least you are trying to do “something” and trying to make a difference. Keep up the good work and keep believing in what you do!
Please also check my Youtube channel “bouncy66” there are lots of old Rileys, Feverfew and also Shelleys Children (I moonlighted on bass for a number of months) bibs and bobs there, enjoy!