Thanks so much to Nick Clay for the interview!
++ What happened (to you my dearest friend) in between The Pink Toilets and Pink Noise? Why did you decide to change the name? Did you release anything under The Pink Toilets?
The move from Pink Toilets to Pink Noise was seamless, really. We had got together in late 1984 at University. Our first gig was a showcase of the various bands that had grown out of the Musicians Soc and we needed a name. I can’t recall why we thought The Pink Toilets was a good idea for a name. We played the gig and went down fairly well and were offered the opportunity to play again at the university. I think it was after that second gig that we realised that the name was something of an albatross. Nothing was ever even recorded as The Pink Toilets. Thank god.
++ Where did the the obvious obsession with pink came from? Was this a way to attract girls, getting the proper ‘hard on the outside, soft on the inside’ image?
It’s all a bit vague now, but I think we thought that retaining the pink theme might ensure some continuity, and we came up with Pink Noise by a process of simply adding random words to ‘pink’ until we came up with something that none of us violently objected to. Your thought-processes as to how to get a band name are much cleverer than those we used I’m afraid.
++ Where did you all meet? Did you all attend Hull University? What were you studying?
Although we are all the same age Dave and Sam (just about everyone calls him Sam, even though he is really Steve) had been at Hull a year before I arrived as I’d taken a year out prior to university. They’d been in a band in their first year that had died in the summer of 1984. Sam had approached me at the first Musicians Soc meeting and said he was looking to form a band, and told me he knew a drummer from the previous year. We had a chat and sorted out a jam. At one stage (perhaps only the first practice) there was another bloke who played saxophone. I can’t even remember his name now.
Sam did a degree in geography. Dave and I did Social and Economic History.
Later on Chris Elliott from the Gargoyles joined and played some gigs with us, but that was as we were knock, knock, knocking on the door of oblivion.
++ Was Steve’s hair naturally uberblonde?
In the sense that hydrogen peroxide is natural, yes. Now his head’s naturally uberbald.
++ The idea of being in an university band with friends called “Pink Noise” sounds like a fantastic way of spending your youth! How did common Saturdays look like for the band? What did Hull as an university city had to offer?
It was great, but we weren’t in each other’s pockets the whole time. Some bands are like cliques of friends who only hang around together, but we didn’t, for instance, only go out together on a Saturday as a group. Hull is a small enough place to make it reasonably likely that you’ll meet up anyway. Hull isn’t as big a university city as Leeds or Manchester, so the options were probably fairly limited. Early on the routine would be; get pissed in the student bar, go to Spiders nightclub, walk home. Later I started going to gigs that Hull’s ranting poet Swift Nick was putting on at the Trades and Labour Club (The Nightingales, Skeletal Family and so on) and the Welly Club. Later still I ended up spending my time at the famous Adelphi Club.
++ Apart from playing in the band & studying what activity/hobby did you have? As friends, how close were you? Ever had a fight? Did a Yoko exist, maybe?
It would be great to say I had an ‘activity/hobby’. But I didn’t.
I think we were pretty close friends – we all invested time in the band, got together to practice regularly, crammed ourselves into hire-vans to drive to gigs, and generally had a laugh. I don’t remember any fights in the sense of anyone punching anyone else. Bit of mardiness maybe. No Yoko’s. We all had girlfriends, but they never tried to join in the band. Or make films of our bottoms.
++ What was your first ambition with the band? Was it being on Top of the Pops really what you were after?
I think we wanted to be famous-I remember earnestly explaining my pop-star plans to one of my house-mates. He seemed pretty interested. Then it dawned on me that he was gently taking the piss. I don’t think we were aiming for real fame, fortune and TOTP, but when The Housemartins hit the big-time I think all the local bands thought a little of the crumbs from their table might fall our way
++ What & Who were your biggest influences? During the early stages of the band what other musicians & records did you discuss in a ‘this is how we want to sound’ way? Have you had any earlier music experience?
No earlier or later bands for me. One problem that we had as a band was we didn’t have an obviously coherent look or sound. Sam was a big Jam and Blondie fan, I liked The Cure and Dave liked all sorts of odd stuff. But we had an over-lapping taste as well. When I think about it now I don’t think we ever sat down and discussed what we should sound like, and I certainly wasn’t a good enough guitarist to play authentically in any other style apart from the one I had (and still have). So we were stuck with what we had got.
++ How important was the Adelphi for you? Was it a place where Hull bands could feel there was some kind of community?
The Adelphi was central. We played there, hung out and watched other bands there…Sam got a job there as manager when he graduated so we stored our gear there and used the stage for rehearsals. It was the focal point for all the local musicians in Hull. An amazing, grotty dive in the middle of a Victorian terraced street. Some of the worst and best bands I ever saw played there. Paul Jackson was prepared to give everyone a chance to play. There were 2-4 bands a night for 7 days a week. Sometimes the sweat was dripping off the ceiling, sometimes there were more people on stage than in the audience. We were lucky when we first started playing there that we had a ready-made student following so that we could usually pull a reasonable crowd. But the important thing there for me was always how it played to the other local musicians. Local bands were always watched by other musicians. Everyone was checking the competition out all of the time. It was a mutually supportive community. With some back-stabbing thrown in.
++ What was the gig you remember the most and why? Who would you have wanted to share the headline?
I dunno really. I sort of remember the Housemartins signing gig at the Adelphi. It was the first time we’d played there and possibly the first time I’d ever been there. We got equal shares with them and the other acts-about fifty quid- the place was packed and we went down well. Although I’d seen the Housemartins play several times before, and had shared the bill with them, this was the point at which I realized that what everyone was saying about them was true. The exact moment came as they rehearsed ‘Joy, joy, joy’ in the soundcheck. No-one else was doing four-part harmony acapella and it was a revelation.
++ What was the full discography of Pink Noise, do you remember?
Leaving aside some largely well dodgy cassette demos that we did, our limited vinyl career went as follows;
1987 Thin End of the Wedge
1988 Everything/Move for You/Ghosts
1989 On My Mind- a track on compilation album ‘Knee Deep in Shit, volume 8’
All in all not a difficult list to remember.
++ Your first single “Thin Edge of the Wedge” got great reviews but your second, “Everything / Move for You”, got almost no attention! Why do you think that happened?
I don’t know about ‘great’ reviews but it was generally well received. I think that TEotW was a chugging 4-minute indie anthem and fitted in easily with the prevailing scene. The problem with the next release was it didn’t fall into any obvious camp. Everything was trying too hard to be a radio-friendly pop song, whilst Move for You was also supposed to be the A-side. That’s ok if you’re the Beatles putting out Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane but a bit dumb if you’re nobody. With hindsight I think it may have been better to put Move for You out first as there was a continuity of sound following on from TEotW and then put out Everything. Who knows? Or cares?
++ Pink Noise recorded a song called “I Won’t Miss You (When You’re Gone)” and it was directed to Margaret Thatcher. How politically involved were you during those tough years in Great Britain?
We were committed, I think. We did lots of benefit gigs at the time as did all of the local bands. There was a real feeling of active opposition to what was going on.
Times were tough. The miner’s strike was on when we started and, although Hull isn’t a mining area, it was only a short drive to the South Yorkshire coalfields. The city was on it’s uppers at the time, really. The fishing industry had collapsed, there was significant local unemployment. There were people collecting money in buckets for striking miners outside the shops, benefit gigs for miners and South African trades unionists at the Adelphi and so on. Thatcher and her government had determined to crush mining communities, called Mandela a terrorist, supported apartheid, and encouraged greed. It was an intensely frustrating time. I was glad when she got booted out. She won’t be forgiven. Mind you Tony Blair was as bad.
I’ve always liked songs that are ostensibly about one thing when in fact they’re about another; The Ruts’ Love in Vain being one of the best examples.
++ You released on Reasonable Records which was Ted Key’s, of Housemartin’s fame. label. He also produced your singles, right? How was working with him? Any anecdotes you’d like to share?
Ted played bass for the Housemartins. Then got dismissed. Or left. Or something. He also played guitar for The Gargoyles a great band who were largely met with stunned surprise by audiences outside of Hull. Reasonable Records was a label that Ted set up with, I think John Rowley of Red Guitars. I think it only put out Pink Noise and Gargoyles records. It wasn’t a very big venture. It was fine working with Ted. He was very enthusiastic and we wanted someone who we knew to be in charge because we didn’t know what to do in the studio. And no-one else was interested.
I’m not sure about anecdotes. He might get me killed. I know that when we recorded Everything he told us to go away and stop bothering him whilst he and the engineer worked on the mix. When we came back it sounded miles better than when we’d been there. Also he played the guitar solo on Ghosts and some thwacka-thwacka noises on Move for You. Perhaps he redid all the other parts on Everything whilst we were gone as well?
++ How come things got downhill AFTER John Peel played your song “Thin End of the Wedge”? Did you feel like you achieved enough & that it was time to leave with the flag waving on the top?
I think TEotW marked the start of us writing good songs, but it was also the time that our student support began to slip away as people that we knew at University were leaving Hull. John Peel playing our record was great. It was more or less all that I’d ever realistically hoped for as far as being in a band was concerned so I was very satisfied. But of course you think it’s a road to musical world domination.
We carried on plugging away and, in general, I think we became a better band from 1987 onwards. Just less…wanted.
++ What is that that you miss the most of playing with your mates?
Just that really. Playing. I used to like it best when we rehearsed and a new song would suddenly come together out of a riff or chord change or drum pattern. That was thrilling.
++ Why & when did the band call it a day? How was the goodbye party if you ever had one, or did things just run though your fingers like sand through the hourglass (so are the days of our lives) what did you do all after? You ever got together again & thought ‘hey why not regroup’ while talking good old memories but then before parting decided that maybe it wouldnt be such a good idea?
I’m not even sure when it finished. Some time in 1990, I think. Sam left Hull under a cloud after he and Paul Jackson fell out and that was it. No last Candlestick Park/Winterland Ballroom gig for us. I’m sure it was time to call it a day anyway- we were all broke and it was time to put away childish things. I got married in June 1990 and my daughter was born in October of that year.
We’ve not all been in the same room-or within hundreds of miles of each other for nearly 20 years now.
If we could get it together I would like us to have a jam together again some time. We were always a tight band and it’d be fun to see if we could still hold a song together.
++ What do you all do nowadays?
I have my own law firm representing the criminals and alleged criminals of Hull and East Yorkshire
Dave joined Secret of Life and they put a fantastic ep that got NME single of the week. Any of the tracks would have been a highlight of the This Mortal Coil album had they been on it. Then he fell out with them and sold his drums and bough an expensive hifi. He lives near to where I live and works for the local council as a planning officer. We go out for a night’s drinking together every few months, get pissed and talk about stuff.
Sam lives and works in Madrid. I met up with him for the day when I was in Spain last summer. It was the first time we’d seen each other for about 18 years. We cried, hugged….no we didn’t. But it was good to see him.
Chris Elliott got married last year and his raving days as a Beautiful South hanger on/temporary bass player behind him. My family and his family went out for Sunday lunch recently.
I play Scrabble online with Sam and Dave every day on Facebook.
Not very rock n’ roll
++ Anything else you’d like to add?
Read more my efforts to pin Pink Noise and the other Hull bands onto the wall of history at http://www.nickclay.karoo.net/