Thanks so much to Guy De Cruz for the interview!
++ When and where did the band start? What was that main reason that make you come together and start it?
In about 1983 I was in a school band with my mate Doug Cheeseman. We were rubbish but we enjoyed the hopes of stardom. After school we drafted in Mark Parsons on drums and Pete on vocals and became The Bakers Sons. We were inspired by guitar indie pop and challenged The Housemartins to a game of four-a-side football. They replied but declined. I reckon they were scared. After a year of gigging, Doug decided to go to university and the band split up. I joined My Life Story as bass player but I was restless and so left to form my own band. I started on guitar at this point and in 1988, The Men of Westenesse were born. We began as Me on guitar and songwriting duties, Mark (ex Bakers Sons) on Bass and Rick on drums.
After about a year, Mark got bored on bass and Rick got mored of Mark. So bored that he went to America! Mark switched to drums and in came Sean on Bass. We became great friends and the band worked very well. We had loads of songs and demo’d very few of them. Mark was one of the most miserable people you’ll ever meet and went off to sulk somewhere. In came Andy Hayes to replace him. Shortly after Doug joined this new band on lead guitar and the final line up was with Jon Grove on drums. To answer the where part of your question, it began in Cnavey Island and Benfleet and moved on to Southen on Sea – all of which are in Essex (South East of England).
++ Why the name Men of Westenesse?
I always had wanted to call a band I was in Billy Liar but no one thought that was any good. I had spent ages getting through Lord of the Rings and so plumped for the name from that as I though Strider was quite cool. I laboured under the misapprehension that some of that cool would rub off. Oh well.
++ Men of Westenesse only released one single, the splendid “Coldest Water”. It included also English Tragedy, This is Your Life, Everybody’s Fan Club. What do you remember of these recording session? Did the single get good reviews?
Thanks for the positive feedback about the Coldest Water. I remember that the session was our first ever time in a recording studio. I remember that Sean and I paid half each ofr recording and pressing. I had received some money from my dad’s unfortunate death and Sean had some savings – and a job!
I remember the studio was on a farm and that it was summer. While we were recording, the smell of pig shit kept drifting through the air conditioning – not nice.
I remember putting an electronic piano sound on the chorus to fill out the sound and it being difficult to get to run in time with Mark’s drumming. I also remember that Mark’s drumming was so dodgy with regard to timing that we put a click track on the headphones. It came out in all of ours. We had to have it so loud that if you turn up this is your life very loud, at the end you can hear the click track picking up on the drum microphones! I enjoyed playing the reverse guitar bit at the beginning of English Tragedy and was always a little disappointed that no one seemed to notice that song as a good track. When Men of Westenesse got Doug and Jon in, we changed our name to Bootless. We recorded a single with that band as well – Boating which was on the Firestation Records album and 1981 Hero of the Bikesheds. I remember one newspaper reviewing the single and saying that I had a voice like Leonard Cohen on a downer. I took it as a compliment. We got an interview with Go! Discs at the tiem and they told me my songs needed to grow up. A little harsh I thought. Not a nice thing to say to a twenty year old.
++ What about Cassie Records, who were they?
Cassie records? Completely made up. One of my friends at the time had a little girl called Cassie so that was it really.
++ Is Coldest Water your full discography or did you take part of compilations?
A new band that I formed with others was The Hypocrites and we were on a charity cd called Southend Rock. Corny and not very good but it was for a good cause. There is also a song on there called Laurel. Our old drummer Andy thought I was making moves on his girlfriend (I wasn’t I hasten to add) so he wrote a nasty song about me and put it on this cd. Ah the price of fame!
++ You just released “Are You Brothers?”, a 15 song retrospective CD with Firestation Records. How did this happen?
I was so chuffed with the Firestation album. Sean got a letter from Uwe at his parent’s address and passed it on to me. I emailed Uwe and he asked if he could use one of our tracks for the Sounds of Leamington Spa compilations. I said of course and sent him all our old demos. After a couple of chats it was agreed to put them together on an album. I am pleased as punch – if not a little mystified by the interest.
++ I’ve heard there are even more songs that didn’t end up on the CD. How many songs did Men of Westenesse record? Why weren’t these released during those late 80s?
As far as other songs go, there were more recorded but they were always released on tapes and sold at gigs – you know, self funding band etc. They werent included on the final album because I think Uwe had a good idea of exactly what he was after and for me, they are all too personal to choose from. Also, they always sound like not proper songs to me so I let Uwe decide. They were never released because at the time (sound like an old man now) indie really did mean indie, not a trendy name for a major label front but a real label like the original Creation label. We couldnt afford to release any other ones. The Coldest Water cost us nearly £1000 at the time. I’m not sure about the real amount of how many more were recorded but there were definitely more.
++ Listening to your songs it’s hard to believe why weren’t you more popular. These songs are GREAT! Was it lack of promotion? Why do you think gems like these had to wait 20 years to be unearthed?
I think they never got heard because after the Go! Discs interview and then one with Bad Girl records (Family Cat) I gave up trying. Maybe that’s why people seem to like them – because they weren’t written for a purpose, they were just written. They were honest – if a little pretentious. I think a fear of failure plus laziness on the part of the whole band stopped us getting any further. But then, everything has a shelf life I suppose and we reached ours and stopped.
++ How did Men of Westenesse songs came to life? Who wrote the songs? What was the process behind them?
The songwriting duties were mine. Before Doug joined, I would write all the songs, record a demo of them on my 4 track and then arrogantly proceed to tell everybody what I wanted to hear. I would write the bass line and teach it to Sean. When Doug joined, he generally wrote his own guitar parts but the songs were always mine. They were always about something, never random or made up. Doug and I got to a point where at times he could be very negative about parts of songs so I invented a rule that if you didnt like a part, you couldnt slag it off unless you had written a better part. I think we disagreed on a lot of things creatively and this was fundamental in the band splitting up.
++ You were in Bakers Sons and My Life Story. Honestly, never heard about these bands before. Can you tell me a bit about them? Did you release anything with these bands? What about Seamus ex band, Jump Boys?
The Bakers Sons did one demo tape and it had three songs on it. I used to love that band and our attitude but it was a bright short flame. My Life Story are apparently still touring in Europe etc. Quite big apparently.
The Jump Boys were like the Bakers Sons but more influenced by the Undertones.
++ I read that the main influences for you were The Weather Prophets, Lloyd Cole, Felt and especially The Jam. Did you like any bands from those late 80s? the c86 guitar pop bands?
The C86 bands? I loved them. I loved anything with clean and really jangly guitars. I loved and still love any one who can use a D chord and make it really ring. You cant beat a Rickenbacker or Telecaster for that sound.
I still buy original indie records when I can find them. The Shop Assistants, Jesse Gaaron and the Desperadoes, The Loft, Orange Juice (a little earlier than 86), later on I loved the first Trashcan Sinatras album. The Feelies were a great band. The Lemonheads – again, later but still great. World Party for the political bit. Never got too much into the Waterboys – bit too diddlee dee for me.
++ Did you feel part of a scene at all? Were you involved in the fanzine culture?
I dont think we ever felt part of a scene. We were very insulated and into what we were doing never really lifting our heads to get involved in cliques. They are, from experience, a very dangerous animal and one that I wanted to steer well clear of. Having said that, there were some fantastic bands in Southend at the time. The Windmills were probably the best of them. Tortoise Shout were a great band and there was, originally an all girl band, Wednesday’s Child who at one point had interest from Steve Lamacq but I think it was too overblown.
++ Were you more of a recording band or did you gig often?
We were much more of a gigging band. I used to love playing live but we went through a phase where I was writing quiet songs – some of my favourites actually – and you could hear people in the audience talking. It used to really piss me off.
++ Looking back in time, what is that that you miss the most of being part of Men of Westenesse?
What do I miss most? Being a part of something that I made, that I trusted and that I had full belief in. That’s prbably another reason why we didnt get anywhere, because it didnt matter if no one else like it, I did and that was all that mattered. I had the conviction of Morrissey/Marr without the talent. I blame them personally – bad role models.I
++ Why and when did the band call it a day?
I think the band called it a day because I got tired of the attitude of the others and they got tired of me. It’s a shame but then it was all quite amicable. Sean said, I’m fed up with this, I’m leaving the band and I said, ‘Yeah, me too’ and that was it. Must have been around 1993-4 I think.
++ Anything you’d like to tell to the guitar pop fans of the world?
Guitar pop fans of the world? Yes I’d like to tell them something.
It’s not worth it unless there’s been some cost to the person writing the song. A well played D chord is as close as you’ll get to heaven on earth and anyone who says they’re in an indie band now is mistaken. Keep enjoying real music made by real people. What’s the line? ‘All I’ve got is this red guitar, three chords and the truth.’