Thanks a lot to Andy Gray for the interview! My first encounter with Newsflash was through the fantastic “An Englishman” on the Leamington Spa series, but never had the chance to know or listen anything else by them. After a bit of research, and through Mark Whitton, I got in touch with Andy and now Newsflash is no mystery no more! Sit back and enjoy.
++ Hi Andy, thanks so much for being up for the interview. The first thing that catches my imagination is that you were from the Isle of Sheppey. I don’t know much about it to be honest, but from the photos I’ve seen, there’s lots and lots of fields and sheep. How come Newsflash pop out from there? Where in the isle where you based? Was there any sort of scene?
There are lots of contented-looking sheep, tis true. Sheppey is an island off the north Kent coast, population 30,000 and rising. We’re only seven miles across the water from Southend, so we’re a hybrid of estruary culture. Few are islanders born and bred and lots originate from the mainland – mainly London – as in my parents case. There was a sort of scene when we started out in 1987. It was made up of ageing punk/thrash bands, which we had nowt to do with. There was no one our age doing anything, but others were inspired to have a go once we were underway.
++ I would assume that you took the train a lot to London to see bands and hang out? Am I right?
Not really. We were too busy ourselves to get to many gigs and we definitely weren’t interested in hanging out with other bands. It wasn’t out of snobbery or anything, we just didn’t have a lot in common with our peers – still don’t. We were pretty self-contained. When we were gigging in London, the island thing really kicked in. We had a bit of a yokel-sized chip on our shoulder. I think deep down we might have felt a little out of our depth. Stupid really. The few shows we paid to see at the time were bands like The Style Council, The Redskins, Billy Bragg, Everything But The Girl. Anything that was sort of soulful sort and left of centre.
++ So how did the band start? How did you all knew each other? I read the line-up changed quite a bit during the five years you were around… What instruments did you all play?
The last line-up was: Nev Broad (drums) Andy Moss (lead/rhythm guitar) Mark Whitton (bass) Andy Gray, little old me (vocals).
++ Was this your first band?
Yeah. I would’ve made music a lot earlier than I eventually did – I was 19 when Newsflash started – but I never thought I’d ever have the testes to get up and sing in front of an audience.
++ Why the name Newsflash?
Shit name, terrible name. God knows. I think it was our original guitarist’s idea and we never bothered to change it. I was so embarrassed by it and still am. How could we have expected people to take us seriously? I can only apologise.
++ Has there ever been a real newsflash that shocked you, impressed you or just made you laugh?
Only the poxy band name. Hearing John Lennon had been shot was a bit of a headfuck, even though I was too young to have any real comprehension of who he was. It kicked off my Beatles/Lennon obsession. .
++ What music were you listening at the time? Do you feel you were part of the so-called C86 scene, of that guitar explosion that happened in UK during the late 80s?
No. We were listening to stuff that had been around a decade or so earlier, but were too young to appreciate at the time. Things like The Clash were a big influence as was some of the late sixties soul stuff from singers like Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, etc. Later on, The Stone Roses were on our radar and that was pretty much it for the rest of the eighties.
++ So, I’ve only listened to that one song on the Leamington Spa compilation, “An Englishman”. The song is fantastic. I have a big request for you. Would you mind telling me the story behind it? How did you come up with those guitars? And the drums, they are fab! So if you wouldn’t mind, also, would you care sharing the lyrics for me?
As I remember, the song developed from the galloping-style guitar solo at the beginning. The lyrics were meant to be a wry dig at English totems. Hence lines like, “where the bulldog spirit barks all day about weather, sunshine, snow or rain and the only lion I know of, closes early Sunday lunch.” It was my way of saying, “we’re not as great as we think we are, but we’re okay.” This was about four years before England and Englishness became fashionable. Britpop I think they called it.
++ You were really good with arrangements I could tell from the guitar riffs. How was the creative process for you guys?
Andy would come up with a riff and if inspired, I’d find a melody, then words. It was pretty straightforward, we never rowed.
++ That makes me wonder, did you have any releases? Are there many songs recorded? Which were your favourite?
We did limited edition 7″ and 12″ singles. We also put out a promotional flexidisc -try explaining one of those to today’s kids. A favourite with fans was a song called Sam the Bland. It was groovy with a scattering of brass and written about the rise of the bureaucratic drones with the “VDUs strapped to their backs,” which shows you how old the song is. Does anyone still call it a VDU?
++ Were there any interest from labels?
There was plenty of interest from the majors and some big publishers, too. The now dearly departed Vaghan Tolouse, ex Department S and Style Council, wanted us to sign to his publishers, Gut Reaction, and Ben Wardle at RCA was a fan. But without a manager who knew the musical ropes we never got a proper handle on the contract side of things. We were offered a deal with UFO, an independent label with the Stones’ Charlie Watts as part of its rosta It would’ve been ideal, but they wanted worldwide rights to everything we ever released in our lifetime for about £5,000. We never put pen to paper, which worked out for the best eventually, as I would never have gone on to form Jel, my musical apogee.
++ What about gigs? Did you play a lot? Any anecdotes you could share? I’ve read your best were at the Powerhaus in London…
We started out and pubs and clubs on Sheppey before branching out across Kent and eventually moving on London. We’d take coachloads with us to Tuesday night gigs at places like the Powerhaus and George Robey. As I’ve said, we were the first Island band to take our stuff to the capital, so for everyone, fans included, those were pioneering days. Little memories crop up now and again, but nothing of any great consequence because it was all a bit of a whirlwind. I remember us waiting to soundcheck before a Covent Garden gig and the promoter popping his head round the door and asking: “Excuse me, are you Newsflash or Taken From Behind?” It was probably one of the only times I was happy to ‘fess up to being called Newsflash.
++ And radio play? Did fanzines pick you up? Or the music press? You seem so obscure, but it might as well be that searching for Newsflash on google is kind of impossible!
The local radio station BBC Kent had a Sunday night show which promoted local music. We got played a lot and I’ll never forget hearing our stuff broadcast for the first time – one of the most exciting things that can happen to any band. A national magazine for unsigned bands – I forget what it’s called – also picked up on us. They rated Nobodies Home, a latter-day Newsflash classic , as one of the magazine’s top ten songs of the year.
++ So when and why did you split? Were you involved with music after?
It would’ve been about 1992. I think the UFO contract business played a part. The offer momentarily opened up a world of possibilities, and although the decision not to sign in hindsight was the right one, it was nonetheless deflating. Very amicably, we went our separate ways. That was until Nev the drummer and myself formed Jel and the whole bandwagon rolled once more.
++ Are you all still in touch? If so, what are you up these days?
The island’s a very small place, we’re always bumping into each other. Although the last I heard, Andy, our old guitarist, was living in Berlin. I write for a newspaper, music, features and all sorts, during which time I’ve enjoyed an audience with many of my heroes, Paul Weller being one. And I’m still writing, recording – and just occasionally – playing with Jel. We toured Britain and Europe and made an album that will outlive us all – All the Blinding Menace. It picked up brilliant reviews in the national media and continues to sell well across the world via Amazon and iTunes, etc. I’m dead proud of what we’ve achieved and the story continues. On Saturday, December 17 this year we’re supporting an idol from our youth, Bruce Foxton, at Chelsea FC’s Under the Bridge. Bruce is performing as From The Jam and we’ve been asked to support. I can’t wait and it might turn out to be one of the most memorable gigs we’ve ever done – and there have been plenty.
++ Looking back to the past, what would you say were the best moments of being in Newsflash?
The gigs at the Powerhaus were special, even though I didn’t really appreciate it at the time. Everyone from Sheppey sort of bought into the dream and fans that followed us often remind me/us of their brilliant memories of that brief period during the early 90s when the island took London by storm.
++ And is there anything that you would do different if you had the chance?
I would’ve changed the name and got a decent manager. Other than that? Nothing.
++ Let’s wrap the interview here, but before let me go back to the Isle of Sheppey. If I was to go there as a tourist, what would you recommend me seeing and eating? And drinking?
There’s a little hamlet called Harty, which resides in almost total wilderness. It’s only about three miles from where I live but civilisation feels a million miles away when you’re there. It’s got a little pub called the Ferry Inn, where legend has it smugglers happily plied their trade because of its remote location. It does superb booze and food. It’s a favourite with Michael Palin and (wait for it) Bill Oddie who have both wined and dined there. Oddie because of neighbouring Elmley Nature Reserve, one of the poisonous, bearded little tit’s bird-watching haunts.
++ Thanks again Andy, anything else you’d like to add?
Check out All the Blinding Menace, one of the greatest albums of the nineties, or any decade come to that.
I thank you.
Newsflash – An Englishman