Thanks to Rich Lindsay for the interview!
++ You were quite young when The Ammonites started, right? how old were you? where you all friends from school?
Yes, we were all school friends. We must have been 14 years old. The idea of forming a band originated from being bored in History lessons.
++ How come being so young you made jangly pop? how did you get influenced by this music? I ask because it’s not that common, most kids in their teens know mostly what’s on the charts, they don’t dwelve on the music that’s been cooked in the underground!
I think the jangly pop thing really started when we discovered Sarah Records, the Sea Urchins etc. and later The Byrds. It was initially bands like The Smiths and The Housemartins – who had broken out of the underground scene and had some chart success – that made us aware of an independent/alternative music scene. But, the real twee indie pop stuff was heavily influenced by the Sarah stuff.
++ You released many, many, tapes with Rutland Records, as well as your 7″. How did they came to know your music? Did you feel part of a scene in Leicester?
Rutland got to know us because we sent them a demo tape we’d recorded on 4-track which featured the first recording of “Day in the Sun”. They liked it and kindly offered us a chance to share their practice room and release a few things on their label. Looking back there was definitely a sense of a Leicester music scene. I guess a lot of that is thanks to the existence of pub venues such as The Princess Charlotte, O’Jays and the Magazine where young, unknown bands had a chance to play regularly in front of an audience. The guy that was running the Charlotte gave us some really good support slots at the time. Supporting Cud was one particular highlight.
++ You totally considered yourselves popkids, right? If not you wouldn’t have written Teenage Pop-Kid Dreaming. But what does being a popkid during the late eighties / early nineties meant? How could you tell someone was a popkid?
At the time we recorded the record we were desperately trying to be a bit punk and garage. By then I was basically writing most of my stuff by ripping off tunes from Pebbles records or late 70s British punk. I don’t think anyone can deny there’s a large portion of Pete Shelley in the vocal on “Teenage Pop Kid Dreamin” and “Coming Down” is based on pretty standard 60s pop-garage riffs. So the pop kid reference was slightly ironic, mocking our pop kid image and the twee pop kid scene. Maybe we were trying to distance ourselves from the indie pop thing but at the same time we were pretty much confirming we’d never ever be anything else but pop kids. Even now, 18 years later, I’m still a teenage pop kid. Still dreaming too!
++ Do you remember how many tapes you put out on Rutland? Was there any particular difference between the recording of these than the 7″?
I looked at the list of tapes we had done the other day and I can’t remember for the life of me what was on all of them. As far as I recall, all the tapes were 4-track recording which we did ourselves. The single was recorded on 8-track by Alan Jenkins of The Deep Freeze Mice and Ruth’s Refrigerator.
++ What was the biggest highlight of The Ammonites?
There were a lot. Some of the support slots, as mentioned. Playing the big municipal music festival in Leicester and gigging in London … and people actually turning up to watch!
++ Were The Ammonites a gigging band? Which particular gigs do you remember the most?
I refer the Right Honourable Gentleman to the answer I gave above!
++ How involved were you with the fanzine culture at the time? Did you ever wrote one?
We never wrote one, no. I remember being amazed how many fanzines took an interest in us. Doing interviews with Spanish fanzines and having flexi disks released in Japan … It was all a bit mental really.
++ I know you were part of many tape compilations, but there are some I don’t have a clue about them, maybe you can give me a hand with any details you might remember? I’m wondering about “And they Call it Pop” on Fragrant Records and “Just Another… Compilation” on Flippin Ace Records
And then there’s stuff like that which we never knew anything about. Or maybe I just can’t remember. I have no idea about either I’m afraid.
++ About the 7″, I’ve always wondered about the cover, it has some sort of Bridget Riley imagery on it, who designed it?
The cover was just a load of black and white pop art which was meant to look terribly 60s to go along with the garage/psych image we were desperate to cultivate. It featured a copy of a portrait which John (the original drummer) painted of his brother Steve (who had played guitar in the band before leaving to go to university). Incidentally, their other two brothers now play in Ambrose Tompkins with Robyn.
++ How did the the split Flexi on the Boshi label happened? Did you ever meet Akiko?
That was another one of those things that just seemed to happen and completely amazed us. I don’t think we did ever meet Akiko.
++ Was The Ammonites the first band for all of you? Were any of you involved with pop bands during or after The Ammonites existence?
The Ammonites was the first or second band for us all. Robyn has always been involved in various bands, basically because he’s a brilliant musician. He’d switched from guitar to drums for the Ammonites and wanted to keep playing guitar so he was playing with the Calender Dream at the same time, for instance.
I know John got very close to a proper break-through playing drums with ex members of Blab Happy. On John Peel and all that. But in the end I think the album just didn’t sell.
The Ammonites was always “my baby” so I only ever had the one band. I had a long break from active involvement in bands until a few years ago, I got a band started over here in Germany. We called ourselves the zero five, had a lot of fun with it. But for some reason I went back into retirement a year ago.
I’ve already mentioned Ambrose Tompkins. Check them out if you don’t know them. They’re very cool.
++ Why did you choose the name The Ammonites?
To quote one particular fanzine: “because they are as boring as old sea fossils”. I guess that’s the kind of mini backlash you face when your guitarist has an affair with the girl running the fanzine, only for her to get back with her ex boyfriend (the guy running it with her). Ha ha ha
++ Have you ever thought about putting all your songs together on a retrospective CD? I heard there were rumours of Rutland doing this and even a working title “Rain and Ruin”, was this true?
I never heard about that. Robyn put something similar together with all the old demos but that was just a private thing, not for release.
++ Why did the band call it a day? What are you doing now?
Rob had left to go to university. Rob had played bass for use since 1988 and had been the final piece in the jigsaw to becoming a “proper band”. I think when he left, the momentum was gone and the balance was all wrong. We replaced him for a few weeks or months but never gigged again. Shane (guitarist 1989 – 1991) and I were getting listening to totally different music and seeing less and less of Robyn socially. In the end, Robyn said he was calling it a day and it was clear that there could be no Ammonites without him. So that was it.
What are we all doing? Well, this is what I know. I’m not in regular contact with everyone.
Robyn (guitar/vocals 1987 – 1989, drums 1989 – 1991) – Still living in Leicester, is married and has two (I think) sons. Plays with Ambrose Tompkins. And I should drop him a line!
Rob (bass 1988 – 1991) – Was living in London a long time and is now back in the East Midlands too. Sadly I haven’t spoken to Rob for a long time.
Steve (guitar 1989) – I had a recent update from his brother John and he’s now teaching in Italy apparently.
John (drums 1987 – 1989) – Living in a cave house in southern Spain and judging by the amount of YouTube links he sends me, he’s still a teenage pop kid and doing a lot of dreaming!
Shane (guitar 1989 – 1991) – I think he’s back living in Leicester. The last time I saw him he was playing in a band but finding it hard because they wanted him “to play the guitar properly!”. Don’t know what he’s up to now but I’m pretty sure whatever it is he’s being a total star at it.
Jim (bass 1991 very briefly) – I’m afraid I have no idea. I lost touch with him very quickly after the band split and I went to university. Years later though, having finished at university my then girlfriend and I got invited to dinner one night. I think my ex was studying with the girl who invited us round. Anyway, we turn up and this girl’s boyfriend is none other than Jim. That was pretty amusing.
++ Anything else you’d like to add?
Just many, many thanks for giving an old fart the chance to pretend he’s a pop star after all this time.