Thanks so much to Richard Preece for the interview! The Spinning Wheels only released one 7″ back in the late 80s, but it included an indiepop classic, “A Million Years”. Years later he was going to be part of bands like Lovejoy or The Snowdrops. Most importantly for those curious about his 80s past last year Jigsaw Records released a compilation called “When The Music’s Over” that you can get here.
++ Hi Richard! Thanks a lot for being up for this interview. First things first, when are you releasing new music? I’m longing for a new Lovejoy record, or Snowdrops would be nice too!
Hi Roque – thanks for getting in touch! It’s a long time since I answered any questions about the Spinning Wheels, such is the impact of the ‘group’! I’m afraid there’s no new Lovejoy or Snowdrops releases on the horizon. It’s been a while since I released anything – the last 2 songs were on a Matinee compilation and on the Country Music compilation – both were closely linked to Keith and really, his absence from my life led to me retiring from writing and recording new music. (That and a work schedule that leaves little time for anything else!) Don’t get me wrong, I’m not moping about or anything, its just that making music has always been about connecting with friends and sharing ideas and inspirations and I had a lot of fun and met some really nice people, but it was the right time to stop. There are a few Lovejoy demos knocking around, and I recorded some amazing songs with Keris and a guy called Andrew a couple of years ago which was immense fun, but for various reasons they never saw the light of day. I’ll try to keep some of the following answers a bit shorter…
++ So The Spinning Wheels was just yourself? There was no one else helping in these recordings?
The Spinning Wheels was mostly just me – any recorded music was just me, but there was a three piece version for a while. The band came together after the 7″ came out and I was asked to play some gigs. (We played a handful of gigs in Brighton – Scott and James were the other members. We were ok, fairly tight even. But once the record deal fell through (not with Teatime) I just gave up and hid for a while and that sort of finished the band off. I probably didn’t behave too well about it, but I was deeply embarrassed at my failure…and I was young and foolish…
++ I assume you didn’t play live or if you did you didn’t do often, is that right?
3 or 4 gigs was the total. All in Brighton although we were offered gigs at home and abroad.
++ Where did the name of the band came from?
I wrote a song called The Spinning Wheels. It seemed apt at the time – I think the passing of time has been a common feature of interest and concern for me throughout my whole life. The song was recorded on my cassette 4 track and it was released on the Tea Time cassette. I think it was one of the first songs I’d written as a young student, living away from home for the first time.
++ And where you involved in any bands prior the Spinning Wheels?
Not really – a joke school band and a joke college band (although we supported the Chesterfields!) – early to mid 80s. I really didn’t have much to offer anyone musically at that point. The Spinning Wheels started as a way of sending demo tapes out to some of my favourite labels from about 86 or 87 onwards. I’d met some guys from a band called The Visitors who were selling demo tapes at gigs and local record shops and I’d seen The Chesterfields and Razorcuts as my first live music experience and I just wanted to join in really…I saw some great bands and look back on those days really fondly – apart from when I remember my social ineptness.
++ I know your music through the 7″ released by Tea Time records. How did you end up releasing the “A Million Years” 7″ with them?
See above really…Teatime had released some really good singles, Mousefolk / Teatime were fairly local to where I was living and Stuart who was in Mousefolk and ran the label was really supportive. I kept sending poorly recorded demo tapes out to loads of labels and Stuart always came back with positive comments. I probably badgered him into releasing the ‘Land of the Soviets’ cassette of my demo recordings, but Teatime had released one or two other cassette tapes (I have a Mousefolk one somewhere), so it came about quite easily. After the cassette came out, Stuart eventually liked a later demo tape enough to put some money into recording costs for a 7″. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! By then I was living in Brighton and had been in touch with La Di Da, so arranged to record the songs with Grant…
++ The three songs on that record are by far the most known to indiepop fans. Do you mind telling a little bit of the story behind these three songs?
Well, its all a bit lost in the midst of time really…but ‘A Million Years’ was a love song about a fictional break up that was yet to occur. ‘Naked Ladies’ was (you guessed it) about a girl. Actually it was really about the pictures on her and my wall…I was a young student who kind of liked Modigliani and Matisse in that rather irritating, pseudo way that students sometimes do… Yes I was an idiot and took thing quite literally. ‘Because We’re Queers’ is / was a really clumsy and poorly written homage to my hero, Joe Orton. I was obsessed. I was pleased with ‘A Million Years’, less so with the other songs.
++ You recorded the single with Grant from La Di Da. It seems so many records were recorded at his kitchen! Tell me about that experience?
I didn’t ingratiate myself well with Grant when I first met him. A group called All Over The Place were recording at his house (the mixing desk was actually in a bedroom, although instruments and vocals were recorded all over the house). I’d just turned up at Grant’s, having just moved to Brighton and although we’d had some written contact, he clearly had no idea who this person who had turned up uninvited on his doorstep was. He invited me in to listen to the mixes of the songs he was recording. I was complimentary but mentioned that one of the tracks sounded a little ‘tinny’. It went quite quiet and shortly afterwards I left…The record was released soon afterwards and the song in question was labelled as ‘Re-mix’ on the sleeve! Fortunately Grant welcomed me back a few more times and a sort of friendship developed and of course it was an obvious choice of studio when Teatime offered me the money to record some songs. He also told me about ‘This band called the Art Bunnies’ and tried to introduce me a couple of times. That’s another story though!
++ What about the photo on the front cover of the 7″, who is that?
The girl is called Jane and she was my girlfriend at the time. (So predictable, I know…)
++ And is it true there was a second 7″ scheduled for release? What happened?!
Well, yes it is true. The 7″ had been fairly well received – got a couple of plays on John Peel plus local radio stations etc… and Stuart and I were writing fairly regularly (this is a long time before emails don’t forget!) I had recorded some more songs on the trusty porta studio and Stuart seemed keen for me to record them. I’d booked some studio time, started to design the sleeve when I got the letter saying that it had all gone wrong – The recession had recently hit and a lot of small businesses were suffering – Not that Stuart would have called Teatime a business of course, but the simple fact was there was no more money – some distributors were going bust as well as smaller labels and I think a lot of people lost out. At the time I remember thinking ‘maybe he just doesn’t like the songs’ but the fact that ‘A Million Years’ remained the final release on the label eventually convinced my that Stuart had genuinely been a victim of the recession…I think he called it a day with music at that point as well.
++ I remember, maybe 10 years ago, on soulseek, a digitised copy of the “In the Land of Soviets” tape was shared around. There were no track list on the songs though. What’s the story of this tape? And I guess the title of the tape is because you are a big Tintin fan?
I think I have partially answered this above, but ‘In the land of the soviets’ was a genuine Teatime release, with a catalogue number and everything! It sold a few hundred copies as well…The tape was a collection of poorly recorded 4 track demos that I’d been sending to people. 11 songs, 1 cover version. Yes I was / am a big TinTin fan, and I still love TinTin now. But really, I was too excited that Stuart was happy to release the songs to stop and ask myself if the songs were good enough or well recorded enough. With hindsight, of course the answer to both questions is ‘no’, but like I said before, I was young and foolish…
++ I read you were at some point signed to a larger label. Who were they? And how come there were no releases with them?
I’d probably best not say who the label was, but it looked like it was going to be pretty big at the time. Once Teatime closed down, I sent copies of the 7″ to a number of labels to try and get some interest. The label in question were new, had contacts with some big labels and really cool bands. I was convinced by them that I was going to release records for them and be really well received. Basically I think they were always struggling with cash flow – promising recording time, equipment, transport etc…but singularly failing to come up with the goods. They were really nice people but in the end I think they were just naive. Songs were recorded at a studio and eventually the tapes were wiped when the bill never got paid…12 months or more of angst and uncertainty really wasn’t good for me!
++ When and why did you decide to stop doing The Spinning Wheels?
Well – once it became clear there wasn’t going to be a single and album on the new label, I was devastated. I really withdrew from music altogether for a few years. This was probably in ’91 or ’92.
++ Last year Chris at Jigsaw Records released a compilation called “When the Music’s Over”. How did this release come about? Have you ever thought before this about releasing a retrospective album?
Chris had emailed me once or twice over the years – He’d been really supportive when I was releasing records as Lovejoy and he’d sometimes ask about The Spinning Wheels. I guess ‘A Million Years’ is a bit more raw than some of my later songs and probably quite in tune with Chris’ tastes…Chris wanted to hear more! Eventually I found some demo tapes and transferred them onto my current porta studio for Chris to hear. He liked them and asked if he could release them through Jigsaw. I thought that the songs sounded pretty bad and poorly recorded, but Chris was keen and so I thought ‘why not?’. The other thing is that over the years I’d had letters and later emails from people who had actually liked something they’d heard by the Spinning Wheels, and I thought it would be good to make them available, if only to the handful of people who would still be interested.
++ But one thing that caught my attention is that many songs of yours are missing. For example “That’s the Question” that appeared on the Everlasting tape. Or many from the “In the Land of Soviets” tape. Why was that?
Roque – you are good! You have done your homework! Well, ‘That’s the Question’ appeared on ‘In the Land of the Soviets’. Chris and I talked about whether to include the songs from that tape. He was fairly keen to, but I really found it all a bit to painful, especially the sound quality but also the quality of the songs and the performances. So we agreed to release only songs that hadn’t been released before apart from the ones on the ‘A Million Years’ 7″. So all the songs on ‘When The Music’s Over’ are demos from just before and just after the 7″. None were intended to be released and were recorded as simple demos.
++ Are there many more unreleased Spinning Wheels songs? How many tapes did you make back then?
There’s possibly a few – my catalogue system is really poor. There were one or two songs that I actually really liked but the tapes were damaged and they couldn’t transfer without some dropping out, which is sad. All told I probably recorded over 30 songs as the Spinning Wheels.
++ How do you remember the scene back then? Did you go to many gigs? Who were your favourite bands? And where would you usually hang out say on a Friday or Saturday night?
Well, I touched on this earlier. I got great introduction to live music, living near Exeter in the mid and late 80s. Loads of great bands from the Flatmates to the Field Mice, Wedding Present to 1000 Violins…Countless fantastic gigs that I am so pleased to have witnessed. I then moved to Brighton in 1990 – I’d been inspired to know that Creation records had relocated there and of course there were some great bands there too – Popguns, 14 Iced bears etc…I was never cool enough to be ‘part of any ‘scene’ though- I just dragged the girl I was dating to whichever band I wanted to see. Venues like The Richmond and THe Concord seemed to be pretty cool – most of the Sarah bands who played live visited Brighton at some point – Sea Urchins, Brighter, Even As We Speak, Orchids etc… as well as plenty of great bands on other labels.
++ I also wonder, how important were fanzines for you back then? And do you think blogs have the same impact, or importance, as fanzines had?
Fanzines were really important, And flexis and tapes. The thing is, there was no social networking, so unless you knew someone you were really isolated and you know, for indie kids, isolated can be a good thing, but it’s also really cool to be able to share thoughts and ideas with like minded people, which is probably why indie pop seems to thrive on blogs and electronic media. I loved some of the fanzines of the day – it was like a message in a bottle from a like minded person (if it was any good!)
++ One last question, besides music, what other things do you enjoy doing? Any hobbies?
Well, I see a few friends from time to time – Keris and Alex and I meet up fairly often…I don’t have too much time for hobbies because work is so full on, but I do spend a lot of time ferrying my own kids to their hobbies! I still enjoy listening to music and I sometimes pick up the guitar and think, optimistically, that maybe this is the day for me to finish a song off…