Thanks so much to Gordon Will for the interview!
++ Hello Gordon! Thanks so much for doing the interview. The first thing that surprises me is that you never had a proper release. Why was that? Where there ever any plans to do a 7″ or something?
Hi Roque and thanks for asking me – please forgive any rambling. I was surprised to find interest in songs we recorded 20 years ago, let alone someone would be wondering what happened to us!
Well, I don’t think we ever thought about making a proper record, none of us had enough money to finance it ourselves, we weren’t particularly well organised. There was never any interest from any record companies. the Tayside area was slightly off the beaten track – most interest in bands seemed to be in the central belt, maybe Dundee was tainted by the memory of Danny Wilson. The A&R men would probably would have been put off by our ‘chaotic’ and under-rehearsed live shows!
With the internet it now seems to be so much easier for young bands to distribute their music, publicise themselves and generate a following – internationally even! Getting your music heard back then was the difficulty, now the problem is knowing what to listen to – the downside of digital music is the lack of LP sleeves! – how can I find good music if I can’t see what it looks like? Some of the band sites are quite impressive though and I think you just have to work out which bloggers cover the kind of music you like *cough* http://www.cloudberryrecords.com/blog/ *cough* and go from there, particularly if you’re not part of any ’scene’.
++ Do you agree with Mike Innes from They Go Boom! when he says you were Arbroath finest? Or was there other bands from the time that you’d like to recommend?
I don’t think I’ve heard that before! We may have been Arbroath’s Finest purely by being Arbroath’s Only! There was actually another band in Arbroath – I think their name was something like ‘the BlueMoonDogs’ – they played mainly punk cover versions in a pub-rock style. I bought my first guitar from the lead singer – it had an action you could drive a double-decker bus under and terrible string-rattle, the neck also had a nasty habit of loosening itself from the body, I think it was manufactured somewhere inside the USSR, possibly to discourage western-style degenerate music.
++ How many demos did you record? Is Now That’s What I Called Furniture Vol-2 one of those? What was the total recorded output of the band?
We recorded 2 demos, each took 4 hours to record and consisted of 3 tracks. Apparently this is quite quick (it certainly seemed to frustrate the studio guys!). Despite the little time that the studio had to tamper with our sound I think we all thought that we sounded a little over-produced in places. There were a couple of other songs it would have been good to record, but I think we put down the best of what we had at the time.
The tapes sold quite well, however, with copies going all over the UK (a lot seemed to go to Hampshire), some to Germany and I think one ended up in Japan.
Some copies had extra ‘live’ tracks recorded onto the spare tape. I thought it may have had some following when I found a pirated copy in the Avalanche shop in Edinburgh a few years later! We had some air-play on Radio Scotland’s influential “Rock on Scotland/Beat Patrol” hosted by Peter Easton, who now seems to spend his days as a lowly continuity announcer. (Another promising career……
++ How did the band start?
Basically we just started as a group of like-minded people attempting to make the music we liked to the best of our abilities and have some fun doing it – I don’t think there can be any better reason for starting a band. Anyway, first came the Scubas (Self-Contained, Unlistenable and Bloody Awful) formed by myself and my friend Grant early summer 1987, no gigs or recordings, but notable songs were “driving along in my 100a” about grant’s rusty old Datsun 100a and also a wailing cover of “leaving on a jet plane”. Wendy was recruited into the line-up after meeting her at a party at her sister’s house. Somehow – probably after reviewing our practice tapes – this line-up disbanded, with myself (on bass – once described as not so much playing it as fighting it.) and Wendy (guitar and backing vocals) joining her cousin Lynn (vocals) and Ian (guitar, Lynn’s sister Alison’s boyfriend – are you following this, there will be questions later – Arbroath is a small place!) along with drummer, John (Lynn’s cousin Susan’s (actually Wendy’s sister) boyfriend – yup I’m making this worse…), in his band the Gold Blades. That line-up recorded one demo at Dick Gibson’s (No relation to anyone of us) studio in Carnoustie and played several gigs most notably supporting Motorcycle Boy in Edinburgh. The Gold Blades effectively split when I formed the Sohfas with Wendy (guitar, vocals and songs) and her sister Susan (Bass) and John inevitably on drums. The songs were written mostly by Wendy and me – Wendy supplying most of the lyrics and music being written jointly (Wendy would insist on inventing chords, so it became interesting when trying to remember how to play them).
++ Where any of you involved with any pop bands before or after the Sohfas? Did you ever reform as the Fur Cough?
John, Ian and Susan were in Arbroath’s previous finest: Henry and Mary and also I think the Wilderness Children. Wendy and her sister Susan were Skinnipin and I came from the Scubas. After the Sohfas split I played briefly with The Candy Store Prophets practised once with friends as Janice FudDuster and had a few practices with another bass player from Arbroath (…no I don’t want to try playing stuff out of that C+W songbook – me learn? surely it’s supposed to be fun – and I don’t really think Orange Juice had a C+W guitar sound anyway!) but nothing came out of it. I have picked up my guitar a few times and written a couple of songs for the up until now back-of-my-mind-and-unrealised Shinola. John has continued drumming and has been involved with a prolific number of bands.
++ When the band started some of you lived in Dundee and some in Arbroath. Was this a difficulty for the band or a good thing? Did you all up end up living in the same place at all?
Is it the at the start of “A Hard Day’s Night” that the Beatles all go home to a terrace, open their front doors and end up in the same house?
Although Arbroath and Dundee are only about 20 miles apart it did have an effect on practising. Booking practice rooms, travel, lugging kit about. At the beginning we just practiced in my bedroom (how clichéd is that?) but over time that became less practical – we needed proper amps and stuff.
Me, John and Susan all ended up staying in Dundee. A while after disbanding me and John shared a flat for about a year or so
++ What bands were you listening at the time that influenced your sound? Do you still listen to any indie pop
Ooh, band wise we listened to: the Smiths, the Fall, Orange Juice, Mudhoney, Strawberry Switchblade, Half Man Half Biscuit, Jonathan Richman, Sonic Youth, Trixies Big Red Motorbike (”White Horses” only tho’), Beat Happening, Galaxie 500, the Chefs, Young Marble Giants, Spacemen 3, Ivor Cutler, Sarah Records, GoGos, Girls at Our Best, 60s Psychedelia, the Pixies, Buffalo Tom, Revolving Paint Dream, Meat Whiplash, Altered Images, Beat Happening, Big star, the Beat Poets (the late 80s Scottish one), Pastels, Tiffany, Jesus and Mary Chain, Jesse Garon and the Desperadoes, Fire Engines, the Go-Betweens, Rezillos/Revillos — I haven’t attributed who liked what, purely to protect the guilty
I still listen to mostly indie music – I have a deep aversion to chart/mass market music although I am now more indie-mid now than indie-kid! I have always liked music ‘on the edge’, singing that sounds just like it’s about to go off and musicians playing just on the edge of their technical abilites. Actually anything that just has that spark of genius teetering on the abyss of madness. Well, that and a cute poppy tune does it for me every time. Not hard to please, am I? A fragile voice and some vaguely discordant music……
Currently: you’ll be able to see what I listen to once I can get scrobbling working from my zen to last.fm via Linux! In the meantime though I’ve been listening to a lot of the bands I was listening to back then, Young Marble Giants sound particularly fresh – I think they sound even better now. And there’s something fascinating about Orange Juice’s “Wan Light”? I can’t decide whether it is genius, madness or sheer folly
Recently I have been listening to: Camera Obscura (can they do no wrong?), tompaulin, Stereolab, Aberfeldy, Asobi Seksu, ballboy, emmy the great, Pizzicato 5, Postal Service, I am Robot and Proud, printed circuit, Herman Dune, the Voluntary Butler Scheme, Cake on Cake, Stephen Malkmus, Frightened Rabbit, I did go through a Belle and Sebastian phase, but I seem to like them/hate them in about equal measures – just too fey/twee at times
++ What about gigging, did you gig a lot as the Sohfas? any particular gig that you remember the most
Gigged a wee bit, probably around 20 in total mostly in Dundee (West Port Bar, McGonagles, DRCU), but also Aberdeen, Perth and Glasgow.
I always enjoyed our spirited cover of ‘Touch Me I’m Sick”. I remember one of our better gigs was with the Fat Tulips downstairs in McGonagles in Dundee, I think I still have one of their T-shirts somewhere! The rest of our gigs either passed by in an adrenaline/beer fuelled haze or have been repressed by my more critical faculties. We had an old Eminar, Australian made, valve-driven guitar amp that took days to warm up and made an alarming electrical humming noise – probably due to it being ‘recovered’ from a skip a few years earlier. It was known to inspire fear in others (It still works, retaining its comforting, yet at the same time, alarming hum.
++ Where does the name Sohfas come from
I think I made that one up – Doh Ray Me Fa Soh Lah Te Doh – FaSoh -> Sohfa. Probably a comment on our musical abilities!
We were always a bit unsure of our name – there was always much discussion about changing it, hence “Fur Cough”, “The Melon Farmers” etc
++ On the Everlasting Happiness fanzine there’s a description of the Sohfas, it says “Gunpowder gelatine, Dynamite with a lazer beam, Guaranteed to blow your mind, Anytime” Do you agree with it?
“Talcum Powder, Jelly Snakes, Dyno-Rod with a Bailey’s Cream, Guaranteed to blow your nose, possibly.” would probably have been more accurate. When we were together the Inspiral Carpets had the moo “Cool As F*ck” t-shirts which everybody and their dog seemed to be wearing. John had the idea that we should have similar “Cool As F*ck-All” t-shirts made up. I think I may have made a design for them, but we never had any produced. It really should have been our band motto: “the Sohfas: Cool as F*ck-All”
++ You contributed to a couple of compilation releases: “Mind The Gap tape”, “Positively Teenage”, “Turquoise Days” and “Everlasting Happiness”. Do you remember how did you end up in these releases
I think someone asked nicely! It’s surprising how much these tapes seem to come up when poking around the internet, the recording quality on “Positively teenage” though seems particularly dodgy – I think that’s where the rips of ‘Thorns’ originate, the copy of ‘Stuck on the Shelf’ must be ripped from “Mind the Gap” (They got the title wrong!
++ As many of these tapes included fanzines, let me ask you how involved were you in the fanzine culture of that time
We had little involvement in fanzines, bar buying them. There was one which we had to produce a page for, this was done in the middle of a bit of band-name angst so two copies were made. One as the Sohfas, the other as The Melon Farmers. We ended up sticking with the Sohfas though. Fanzines were great, but often of variable quality – reproduction and content: I have some fanzines that we struggled to read, they look like they’ve been run off a photocopier calibrated by Mr Magoo. Don’t even get me started on the often bizarre choices in colour scheme – can anyone actually read red text on slighty lighter red background? Once you got over that they were usually quite interesting, I can’t remember the names of the really good ones – I’ll have to have a rake around the boxes in the garage. A free tape, flexidisc or set of badges was usually the deciding factor in a purchase
++ What were the places where the Sohfas used to hang around in Arbroath? Has the city changed much since then
THE place to be in Arbroath was called Tropics, not quite sure why, but all of us went there. The DJs occasionally played good music, however for the most part it was chart stuff being dance to by the local sweaty youth brigade. It closed a few years ago. Arbroath has changed little over the years…..
++ Why did the band called it a day? What do you miss the most from those days?
I think we all just agreed that we had given all we had at the time and that we couldn’t see any way forward from where we were. I think I miss most the sense of trepidation and excitement of playing live. The constant feeling of everything just about to go catastrophically wrong was interesting to say the least. Oh, I also miss letraset.
++ One last question, can you cook an Arbroath smokie?
Ah, this is the trick question! Technically an Arbroath smokie has already been cooked;
The haddock are first salted overnight to preserve them, they are then tied in pairs using hemp twine and left overnight to dry. Once the Smokies have been tied and dried, they are hung over a triangular shaped length of wood to smoke. This kiln stick fits in the middle of the pair of Smokies, one fish either side. These kiln sticks are then used to hang the dried fish from the smoker’s mouth. When lit using either a lighter or more traditionally a bundle of dried heather the smoker the proceeds to inhale the resultant, slightly toxic fumes. The traditional garb of 3/4 length plaid is worn throughout the ceremony – facial hair is optional, but preferred for both male and female participants. Although anti-social this process is seen as a rite of passage: from boy to man, from girl to woman. After coughing has subsided the fish are then extinguished by stamping out the flames with a pair of Highland Brogues accompanied by the traditional Scottish Reel “I Should Be So Lucky” played, of course, on a ukulele. Not a dry eye can be seen in the whole town. Deaths by “Smokieing” are not uncommon – ginger beards can be highly flammable, the are victims categorized by their burnt hair and wizened appearance. The introduction of filter-tipped haddock have mitigated the worst of the effects of inhalation.
Apparently they can also be smoked in a barrel.
But where’s the fun in that
Thanks for interviewing me, it’s good that people enjoy these tracks after so many years.
Sohfas – Thorns