Thanks again to Johnny Wood for another interview, this time about his first band, the fantastic Episode Four. With this band he released one 12″ EP that included the classic “Strike Up Matches”. This record is one of those holy grails in indiepop as not many copies survived a flood in their storage facility. You can read here my previous interview with him about East Village. Enjoy!
++ Hi again Johnny! How are things going? How are the English classes? Have you actually learned some Chinese? 🙂
Hi … things are going well. yes i’m learning Chinese. It’s hard but I keep persevering. Actually enjoying it a lot. I have a great teacher who pushes me hard but thats ‘cos she knows I really want to learn it. And not just conversation. I’m learning to read and write the characters too.
++ Thanks again for being up for another interview. You know that Episode Four 12″ is like one of the holy grails for many indiepop collectors. What happened? I read the storage place Percival’s Belsize Park HQ was flooded and everything was damaged and lost?
Yeah a burst pipe I think.
++ Realistically, how many copies would you say were saved? This must have been a really tough moment for you guys. You were self-releasing it, right? Under Lenin And McCarthy Records?
That’s right, we had put a lot into it and then that went and happened. Almost a total disaster but fortunately some were rescued in time. How many? Couldn’t say really, they just got put anywhere out of harms way. Not many.
++ Why the name of the label by the way? Who made the logo? I think it’s great!
Yeah we always had good logos, ha ha. The name was a pun on Lennon/McCartney but also a kind of statement on the times. The early – mid eighties in the UK was still divided politically. Socialism as represented by the unions v’s capitalism represented by Thatcher’s government.
++ The part I never understood was, according to the Leamington Spa booklet, why Percival had you on a legal wrangling? What rights did he have?
That was just him wanting to keep a hold of us when we wanted away. Maybe he made it out to be more than it was. I don’t remember ever being worried by it. But I think he had this grand scheme of being a pop svengali, like Mickey Most or something, ha ha. He had us and another band called Thee Hypnotics. He saw us as being The Beatles and them The Rolling Stones. Trouble was we saw us as being Episode 4 and they saw them as being Thee Hypnotics. It wasn’t gonna work.
++ Let’s go to your beginnings, you were formed in 1983 as a garage band playing mostly covers. How do you remember those days? And what were your favourite covers you made?
I remember them as great times. So exciting for me, even though we were really small time. But the times we spent playing each other our first efforts at songs, listening to records, hanging out were wonderful really. We played stuff like 96 Tears, simple riffs. I think we did Since I Lost My Baby by The Action too. A truly fantastic record and still one of my all time faves. We probably murdered it, but murdered it in a good way. Ha ha …
++ What inspired you to be in a band? Did you have any big heroes in music?
Well, since I first read stuff about The Beatles I wanted to be in a band, but never thought I would be until Episode 4, although I did try. I just plugged away on my own listening to Simon & Garfunkel records. Then Aztec Camera’s first album blew me away. I listened to that every night and day for weeks and weeks, from the moment I woke up ’til the moment I fell asleep. I still love it.
++ And why did you named the band Episode Four?
I have no idea. It was already a band before I hooked up with them and the strange thing was, I never asked about the name. It was just Episode 4 and it was alright with me.
++ You gigged quite a bit from what I can tell. Which were your favourite gigs? Did you get to gig outside London?
Yes, we lived outside London so most of the gigs were around or in our hometown, High Wycombe. And yes, we did gig a lot. The Nags Head in Wycombe was always good. It was a quite a famous venue, on the circuit since way back in the 50’s. A lot of famous acts played there .. The Who, The Jam, Sex Pistols, blues artists. Not bad for a pub. Apart from there, there were quite a few. The Mean Fiddler in London. Lincoln, a small town a 100 miles or so away always welcomed us. But my fondest memory has got to be the Pink and Lily, where we used to rehearse. It was a small country pub, way out in the sticks, with an annex room that we played in. Someone in the pub had heard our efforts and used to lend me his guitar, which was a beautiful Gibson 335 (I think), cherry red color. A guy called Johnny. So kind of him. That kind of thing inspires you. You know, I didn’t even know him. Maybe he thought we had something and could see that to play a really good instrument like that would spur me on. Anyway, we did a gig, one of our first, in the garden of the pub. It was a lovely balmy English summer’s evening, and we made a makeshift stage around the base of a big cedar tree and played to all our mates who’d come from the town to see us.
++ Who were the bands at that time that you enjoyed the most to go see, or even play with, share the bill?
There was a venue called Friars in a neighbouring town that had some big names on. Echo & the Bunnymen were one. Aztec Camera of course. I went to a lot of their gigs. Thee Hypnotics were mates and we saw them a lot. Really exciting live band. We did a great gig with them once at a party at Spence’s house. Two bands set up in the living room! Us one end and them the other. Can’t remember who played first set … we must have tossed a coin …
++ So you met this Percival guy and offers you to release a record, that’s how the story goes, right? How did you meet him?
I have no recollection. It must have been after seeing us play. He must have come up to us and promised us the world, ha ha.
++ This record was recorded for £78 on a single day. That seems very little, but at the same time you got a very good sound. How did you manage?
You have to remember things were a lot cheaper then, but even so we thought it was a ridiculous amount, like something out of The Rutles. Maybe Maurice had done a deal with the studio .. you know, get a slice of the profits for a cheap day in the studio, ha ha. As for the sound, we kind of wrote the songs in a way that dictated what the sound would be like – to a certain extent. We were doing it ourselves. But we also relied on the engineers to help us. And a friend – George – had had some studio experience and played piano. I think we probably name-checked a few records or bands we were into to get their minds on the same lines as ours.
++ On it you included one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, honestly, “Strike Up Matches”. What was the story behind it?
Thank you … well by this time we’d been together a couple of years and had found Spence. With him things fell into place quickly. Our songs were getting better and better, we were writing stuff we knew each other would relate to. Being in a band, you get to know each other pretty well on some levels. It was political times in the UK … the miners, the unions, Thatcher. Strikes, marches, riots. It was my way of commenting. And when I played it to the others they got it straight away.
++ Oh! And why did Strike Up Matches appears as the B side of the record? The name is on the cover you know, it’s just a bit odd 🙂
Is It? Maybe we just thought all the songs deserved to be heard, so put it on the ‘B’ side. We were like that.
++ It also included three other fantastic songs. Which makes me wonder, were there any other more songs recorded by Episode Four, even if it was on demo format?
Oh yes .. we did a lot of demos, even if the songs never went anywhere. We were always interested in recording. Our great common ambition was to make an LP.
But we probably re-used the master tapes each time we used a studio.
++ What was your favourite song?
It’s got to be Strike Up Matches. Not long ago, Excellent Records director Kei gave me a tape of a Japanese band doing a version of it. Amazing. Someone covered my song … wowed.
++ I was just looking at the artwork on the Discogs page, wishing I had a copy myself haha, and I was thinking that the sleeve on it’s dark blue shade, and the guitar, it’s just so classy and elegant, just like your music. How important were your aesthetics for you guys? And I’m not only talking about artwork, I’m asking even about haircuts, because I’ve seen you had some cool ones!
I don’t think we ever discussed it. It was just the way were. We were into bands that had haircuts, so we did too. It was just a normal thing. And it was easy for me, with my curly mop – jusy wake up in the morning and hey presto! never had to worry about it, ha ha. As for the other stuff, yeah the guitars, the amps, the artwork … very important from day one.
++ So when exactly did you decide it was the moment to say let’s start anew, let’s change our name?
We’d become involved with Jeff and were hanging out more and more in London. We’d developed a lot, improved a lot, were realising that people were a little impressed. It just felt like we were taking a step forward … so a new name that maybe had a stronger significance that people might relate to ..
++ And these days, whenever one of the copies shows up on eBay and sells for 225 quid and the other for 400 quid. How do you feel about it? Do you still have a copy of your own by the way?
Yeah of course I do … a part of my life. I’d never sell the ones I have. when I see those prices I wish I had a few more.
++ One last question. As you are living in China, and having a close look, do you think they will dominate the world economically and culturally soon? I kind of look forward to it, meaning less McDonalds and more dim sum 😀
Well they got McD and KFC over here too … certainly they’ll be the wealthiest nation in a few years. Maybe the majority of people won’t be. I’m not so sure they want to dominate the world. At least not in the way western people are concerned about. Perhaps they will exert a lot of political clout, well almost certainly they will actually. Perhaps morally too. But it’s still a developing country .. there’s a lot for them to do and worry inside their own borders. Financially, the powers that be seem to be pretty smart. It’s an interesting time to be here.
++ Thanks again Johnny! Anything else you’d like to add?
Just like to say thanks for your questions … and keep up the good work with Cloudberry!