Thanks so much to Paul and Phil for this thorough and amazing interview! Not so long ago I wrote about them on the blog and last week I received some days ago the 7″ release of “Louise”, limited to 20 (!) copies, and it’s such a fabulous song (and the flip-side is also VERY good), that I’m so happy to share with you their answers. If you haven’t heard about Rawhide Chomp before, you are in for a treat!
++ Hi Paul and Phil! Thanks a lot for been keen to answer my questions! I remember I listened to Rawhide Chomp so long ago on Myspace, and I loved the songs there. These days where can one find Rawhide Chomp stuff online?
Paul and Phil: Hi Roque, good to be able to chat at last. I remember being astounded when Phil found out that you’d unearthed the Rawhide Chomp Myspace page and been supportive. Just to know that someone in the USA was interested was amazing! It sent us back to dig out the tapes and eventually kick-started the recent activity.
We’ve just launched a Rawhide Chomp website and a Bandcamp page. Having found the old tapes we just thought it would be good to put the older songs up there and make them available.
++ So, having the website and all, are you planning anything with the band? Maybe some reunion gig? A release? Anything?
Paul: We have just released a very limited 7 inch single of two tracks “Louise “ and “Old Head”. The thing sold out in a day which is something else we didn’t expect. Apologies to anyone who missed it. We are just considering what to do next, whether to cut a few more and make them different or to just keep it as it stands. The recordings are very much of their time, 4 track, in a cold damp room!
As for today and newer tracks we still send songs to each other and are working on finishing a couple more. One is called “Gerla” a tribute to Geoff Duke a British multiple motorcycle Grand Prix Road Racing world champion in the 1950s. Born in St. Helens. As for gigs , you never know.
++ I remember that the bio on Myspace said that you were formed in the mid 80s in St. Helens. Tell me a bit about your town? Never been. What’s there to see or do? And back in the 80s where would you hang out? Were there any good bands in town?
Paul: St.Helens lies between Liverpool and Manchester in the North of England. It is mainly an industrial town, known for its glass making, Rugby League and coal mining. The mid 80s were hard because of the Miners’ Strike and the town was hit hard.
Other than pubs there were no places to hang out. A group of us decided to put on gigs bringing together small bands from the area. We’d negotiate with pub landlords to put events on. Sometimes in small rooms, sometimes in the main bars. We‘d stay for a few weeks or months and then move on to the next. Eventually a kind of scene did start to develop. Thinking back how we got away with it was remarkable. The pub regulars thought we’d come from “Outer Space” and we thought we’d come from New York!
Lots of bands sprung up, mostly guitar based like The Riotous Hues, The Tractors, The Waves, Romulan Cloaking Device and Old Ma Cuxom and ourselves, but there were some other more “synthy” bands like The Tiki Rapids. It’s worth mentioning “Benny Profane” from Liverpool who were really good and always really supportive of us bands “from the sticks”
“The Jactars” from Liverpool were great. Very different from most Liverpool bands.
++ The band was formed from the ashes of of a band called Riotous Hues. Tell me a bit about this band? Were any of you involved with any other bands prior to Rawhide Chomp?
Phil: the Riotous Hues were actually from Rainford, a small village near St Helens. Our singer, Dave Evans lived in Liverpool for a while and got to know Mike Badger, who later formed TheLa’s. We were heavily into The Velvets (especially Live 1969) and Jonathan Richman, but we also loved the melodies of the Pale Fountains and the Beach Boys. I suppose the highlight of our career was playing in Dingwalls in London with some other Liverpool bands. We also appeared on two compilations, ‘A Secret Liverpool’ and Elegance Charm and Deadly Danger. The St. Helens compilation.
Paul: I always looked on “The Hues” as having really well crafted pop songs. Always catchy but somehow off kilter. …….. Phil and Gaz Capper, (our first Drummer) were both in RH. Jamie Flannery a founding member played in an early incarnation of The Tractors and Mike who became our singer played in a band called “Dixie Cartoon”. There was a very open attitude to members of various bands just getting together and coming up with something at least half interesting.. I did something with Andy and Pete from the Tractors, just two lowfi slyly jazzy songs, dead simple but ok. Only performed twice as “The Revolutionary Biscuits of Italy”. Phil jammed with the Tractors for a few weeks. Just trying things out and mixing things up. It was quite a healthy state of affairs with very little rivalry.
++ Who were the members and what instruments did each of you play? How did you all meet?
Paul: Like most bands the line-up fluctuated but the “classic“ was Phil Smith, Guitar, Paul Cross, Guitar, Mike MaCauley, Guitar and vocals, Simon Pratt, Drums and the shaman that was Jaques LeFerve on Bass.
Initially, Jamie and I were working on songs together and we were really lucky when Phil and Gaz were looking for something after the Riotous Hues “split”. We all had similar tastes. We loved making a racket with guitars. None of us could sing and when Mike joined from Dixie Cartoon we felt fairly well set. A band with three guitars. What’s not to like. Mike’s voice has that really natural Northern sound. It’s identical to his speaking voice. Listening now, I love that aspect of the songs.
++ You used to practice at the Fringe offices, right? How was that place?
Paul: It was an office space for an arts organisation. They’d let bands rehearse for free which was really good. Most local bands passed through the doors and also used Dead Fly for demos.
Fringe put out a compilation LP out of some of the local bands including The Riotous Hues, so they helped out in that way too. Check out “Elegance, Charm and Deadly Danger” if you want to get a feel for the bands around nearly 30 years ago. Not all “C86 ish “and a bit variable but a good document of the times.
++ Why the name Rawhide Chomp? Is it because of the dog food?
Paul: Yep! Phil can explain that one!
Phil: The reason is lost in the mists of time- I think I just saw it in a pet shop and like the sound of the words. Plus the song Rawhide by Frankie Laine came into it somewhere.
++ Your first gig was supporting a band called The Tractors at a venue called McDonalds. What do you remember of that first gig? Did it go well?
Phil: it wasn’t a venue, it was actually upstairs in the McDonalds in St.Helens! I have no idea how it was arranged. One of the Tractors probably knew somebody who worked there.
Paul: It went well enough for us to keep going. We played without a bass so we hung it round Ronnies neck. Not sure we were too proficient as a band, but just doing it meant everything in a way. Choosing McDonalds was a bit strange and I’m not sure whose idea it was. Phil and I are vegetarians so I suspect there was a bit of mischief involved. The Tractors were a real conundrum. Chaotic, shambolic, sarcastic, you name it, but great songs and again always supportive of other bands. They’d probably hate me for saying that but it’s true.
++ Then your final gig was supporting The La’s at the Monro in Liverpool. That must have been a big gig? Lots of people? Any anecdotes you could share?
Paul: The Monro was a great place. Bands like Echo and the Bunnymen would turn up and play a set of covers or something. It was just a pub with a back room to play in. Ernie Woo the manager would lock the doors and then produce food for everyone. Fantastic place. Gigs would go on through the night. The La’s gig was great. It was rammed but not a massive place. The early La’s music is underrated, much more stripped and urgent. Mike Badger, was leading the band at the time and he has a true Rock “n” Roll aesthetic. We put their first ever gig on at “The Lamb” in St. Helens and I guess they helped us out in return.
I think we went down pretty well. During one long song Gaz the drummer just got up went to the bar and got a drink, then came back. We just kept going. I’m sure there’s a tape of the gig somewhere.
I went back to The Monro a couple of years ago and it’s now a high end Gastro Pub now. I went in for a pint and got talking to an old boy who remembered it back in the day. Sad really. Something gone from the city’s history.
++ And aside from those two gigs, are there any particular gigs you remember and why?
Paul: Benny Profane at TUC in St.Helens was a big one for us. Good crowd but you couldn’t hear the vocals. Listening to the tape the tunes stand up surprisingly well if a bit linear. I remember thinking no one can her Mike’s vocals and I had to “sing’ the last track A cover of “She Cracked”. I though “Well your gonna hear this one!” That was a mistake, but Phil’s guitar playing is fantastic on it. I wish there were some photos of the night because this guy, George, a sixties veteran did this amazing visual light show, with projections, oil wheels and strobes. It filled the whole hall which was pretty big. I remember turning my back on the crowd and was gobsmacked to see this 20ft projection of Nico coming in and out of focus with acid colours swamping the image. Fantastic. I often wonder what became of George.
I think it’s fair to say that gigs in the town went from the sublime to the ridiculous.
++ Was there any bands you played that you really liked? And which bands would you consider as influences to your music?
Paul: The La’s and Benny Profane were great to play with. We wouldn’t have played with any band we didn’t like or feel some kind of affinity with. We were a bit like that.
Both Phil and I are quite obsessive with music and bands. From slightly earlier, the whole roster of Postcard bands were hugely influential and our love of Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers always kept us going. The Velvets were a key touchstone for many of us. Some of those songs, so simple, didn’t always sound completely perfect but so beautiful. I’d inherited a love of Scott Walker from my dad from the and there are a couple of lyrical references to the great man.
++ During those years, the mid 80s, and especially 86 and 87, there was an explosion of guitar pop bands in the UK. So many! Did you feel part of that scene at all? The one they call now C86?
Paul: We were all aware of many of those bands and we really subscribed to that “E A G Now form a band” ethos from the 70s. I really liked The Pastels, The Loft and the Servants. The June Brides too.
I don’t think we felt part of that wider scene in particular but you can see obvious links. Our combined record collections would make a fairly wide reaching record of the times.
Phil: I have just always been obsessed with guitars- The Stones, The Who, The Clash, Velvets, Postcard records, Zoo and Factory Records, the Smiths. Around the time of Rawhide I was collecting Creation Records-they seemed the perfect label for me, with the 60’s influence . We sent Alan McGee a hand painted tape of these songs but it was obviously filed away in his bin.
Paul: It’s probably underneath the Tractors tape.
++ How did the creative process work for you guys?
Paul: Usually, Phil or Myself would come up with a simple chord progression and we’d kick it about. I could come up with a basic tune but often Phil would work out where to go with it. He could come up with complete songs. Initially, I started to write lyrics for the early songs then Mike came in and we’d co write them. It was a real collaborative process and we all got on with it.
Phil: We liked to keep things simple – we had one song called ‘The endless joy of Dm’ which was basically the one chord- Dm all the way through. It was a little influenced by ‘Lonely Street’ by the Loft but I still think it was a great song.
++ I was reading that the amazing song “Louise” will be released as a lathe cut sometime soon. I definitely want to buy a copy of this! It’s such a fabulous song! So I’m wondering what can you tell me about this upcoming release?
Paul: Yeah it’s basically, that’s the single that’s just gone.. It was cut in Manchester each one in real time from the original C15 tape. John the guy who did it had to sort a few “panning” issues but he didn’t mess with it too much. We’re really pleased with it.
There were only 20 available and it was important to add a few small extras to it, including downloads, sorry! Not sure how people got to know about it. Guess that’s the wonder of the internet today.
Phil and I thought long and hard about doing it. Yeah, just digital would have been easy, but we grew up with the excitement going to Liverpool and buying Zoo, Postcard, Factory and early Creation records amongst a million others.
In the end we came to the conclusion that there had to be a physical release and it had to be a 7”. As they say “Small is Beautiful”
I guess you get the same feeling with Cloudberry Records.
++ And if you don’t mind, as this song is so good, what’s the story behind it?
Paul: It’s just about two people with trust issues trying to talk thing out but it ends quite bitterly, and about having to move on. I was also obsessed with Louise Brooks in my younger years. Still am actually. A great actress in some great films.
++ The other song to be included on the 7″ will be “Old Head”. I haven’t heard it yet, but I wonder, was it an easy pick? And if there are many other songs you recorded waiting to be released?
Paul: We have quite a few songs but only three recorded in anything like demo form. Most are just played live. I think some of them still stand up though. I’m sure we could do something with them. “Old Head” is one of our earliest finished songs so we wanted to include it. Again I think Mike’s voice and Phil’s guitar stand out.
++ I think it’s fair to ask, because of how good “Louise” is, how come it didn’t get released in the 80s?
Paul: Neither Phil or I are great at self promotion. We’re quite shy really so getting up on stage was quite a feat. Like most bands we sent tapes off but didn’t really get anywhere. Only “The Tractors” got picked up for a one off release and “Old Ma Cuxom” released a single themselves , I think.
We should have done it ourselves back then, but better late than never.
++ How was the music press and the fanzine people towards Rawhide Chomp, was there good support?
Paul: People really got behind the local bands. I think they really appreciated what we were trying to do. I don’t remember there ever being a big “Punk” scene in St.Helens . So this never had the chance to evolve in to what came next. Most of us had to go to Liverpool or Manchester to see bands we liked, so a group of tyro bands trying to do it locally was viewed as quite exciting. There was a “Buzz” about the town with frequent gigs in small pubs. Stuff that wasn’t “Pub”rock or just covers.
We raised a few eyebrows which is always a good thing. There wasn’t a fanzine culture in town and only “The Tractors” got a piece in the NME. It was a good one though.
++ So why did you split? And what did you all do after? Were you in bands?
Paul: We all had to hold down jobs and it was quite tough going. Phil and I went on to be teachers and moved away. We’re really not sure where Mike is now. We are desperately trying to find him if only to give him a record. Same for Simon. Gaz became a train driver, A dream come true!
++ It was in 2008 when I read on Myspace that you were back together. How did all that work out? Are you still planning to play and record new music?
Paul: Phil and I still share songs as we said and hopefully we’ll find a bit of time to finish something off. It’s ok doing the Dropbox thing but we really miss that all in a room bouncing ideas about vibe. We meet up a few times each year to see bands and have a few beers.
++ Aside from music on what other things do you spend your time on?
Paul: by its nature work takes up a lot of time. Here in Sheffield there are some great artists and musicians so I get to gigs quite frequently.
Having done “Louise“ with Rawhide we’d really like to release some of the other songs. Also we wouldn’t mind releasing other bands as limited editions. See how we go.
++ And just out of curiosity, if I was a tourist in St. Helens, what’s there to see, eat or do?
Well it’s changed a great deal. Definitely go to a Saints Rugby League match (It’s like a speeded up American Football), Track down a Pimbletts Pie, still the best in the world and take the train to Liverpool for a stroll by the River Mersey. Karl Jung called it “The Pool of Life”.
If you’re really lucky you might catch “Tenements” playing or “Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band”
++ Thanks, let’s wrap it here, anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for the interest.
It’s been great to think about what happened and put some kind of perspective on a very small footnote from the “80s. It’s really interesting to draw a line from those times to what a label like “Cloudberry” is doing today.
We’ll definitely check it out more.
Cheers Paul and Phil.
Rawhide Chomp – Louise