Big thanks to Andy Harding, Simon Burchill and Tom LeBas for the great great interview!
++ What happened to Charlie Don’t Surf? Why did you decide to start The Vernons instead? Did you release anything, maybe a demo tape or something, with Charlie Don’t Surf?
Simon B: The lead singer Jim left and the band were looking for a new singer. I auditioned and got the part. Then as a fresh start we decided to change the name to The Vernons.
Andy H: We had all started at college in autumn 1984, and I had been determined to be in a band! I’d met up with Jez and Jim (who along with Mandy had been Charlie Don’t Surf’s singer) and we had persuaded Tom to join on drums after an audition that involved him banging on cardboard boxes. CDS had done a few gigs when I was involved in putting on a ‘band’s night’ – Simon B’s band were one of the bands, he had dragged them up from Stratford. It’s probably fair to say that Jim and Mandy weren’t natural front-people and I seem to remember the transition from them to Simon being quite smooth. A new name seemed in order, as this was going to be a fresh start.
Tom: Charlie Don’t Surf weren’t very good at all. And we had to change the name as we discovered there was another CDS – in Ohio I think.
++ What were the main differences between both bands?
Simon: I think thats best for Andy or Tom to answer.
Andy: I had written some of the songs for CDS in one of my earlier bands (in Stoke) where I had sung (badly!), but I felt that while we had the basis of a decent band we did need a good singer who could write too. I felt that getting Simon to join was a real coup – I’d rated his performance with his old band – and I guess the main difference was that I felt that we could be something now.
++ Which Vernon does The Vernons pay tribute with the name? Perhaps The Vernons Girls?
Simon: We decided on the name while sitting in The Mount Vernon in Liverpool. It fitted in quite well at the time with other band names like The Pastels, The Smiths, The Housemartins, etc
Andy: It’s always good to pay tribute to a pub. At least we didn’t name the band while sitting in Ye Cracke – that would have been hard to live with.
++ Was it in Liverpool Polytechnic’s C.F. Mott campus were you all met? What were you studying? Did you get a lot of student following?
Simon: Yes I think we were all at CF Mott- now a business park! I was studying English and History and yes, most the people who saw us were students.
Andy: It really was predominantly a student audience. One of the things that finally killed off the band was the loss of our core audience who’d grown up with us, when they left college. Interestingly, one of things that had drawn me to Liverpool had been my love of The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes – if you read Julian Cope’s brilliant book ‘Head On’ it turns out that he also went to C F Mott and was in the halls of residence only a few years before us! The bit where he smacks his head in the stairwell – we ALL used to do that jumping down…
++ The NME-biography of the band mentions that “almost every young man on campus capable of wielding an instrument” was a part of the band! How much truth is in that statement? How was it to have all band members basically living in the same house / on the same street? Did you ever have auditions when people wanted to join and what was the main requirement to be in the band? Did you ever think “He’s a great chef! We may need him”?
Simon: Well we did end up with eight members, and for a time we had Jane Mitson playing flute with us as well. So I think that was most of the campus. The rest of CF Mott played in bands such as The Men Who Couldn’t play, Lars Me and Her, and the wonderful Luigi Klingon and His Magic of Italy Beat Group Sound Authority – their drummer Phil Selway ended up playing in Radiohead. I met him in Waitrose carpark in Abingdon a few years ago. He asked me how the music was going and I said fine, then I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t reply back to him with “And how is your band doing? Did you get anywhere after leaving CF Mott?”
Andy: Like I say, getting Simon as singer was great. Tom’s box/drums audition was surreal. The key thing I felt was that everyone’s voice in the band was listened to, and we tried to operate as a democracy – the downside was that decision-making could be torturous and arranging rehearsal time and so on could be a nightmare!
++ The Vernons had saxes, trumpets, keyboards, and maybe more! A bit more ambitious than the usual post C-86 band. What do you think did the band gained by having all these new sounds? How much more difficult is it to make songs with such an array of different people and instruments?
Simon: Basically if I or anyone else came with an idea for a song to a practice, it would usually sound much better once everyone had put their own instrument and idea into it. Of course you had to be careful it didn’t become too cluttered but usually we knew when to stop playing. I think if we hadn’t incorporated these other instruments we would have sounded like everyone else and would have remained an obscure indie band from Liverpool!
Andy: Building the songs from the initial idea always felt pretty easy I thought. I can clearly remember the brass guys getting their heads together and coming up with some amazing stuff just like that…
++ You played some shows with Frank Sidebottom, how did that work out? I bet they were not your usual kind of gig
Simon: It was like playing to a football crowd. However, we never got bottled off.
Tom: …and we never got him to take his large papier-mâche head off
Andy: The man is a genius. He keeps his head in a drum carrier. Enough said.
++ What other gigs do you remember in particular?
Simon: We nearly did get bottled off when we played to a room full of heavy duty punks at the Elephant and Castle in London. Other gigs I remember, were EarthBeat in Sefton Park playing alongside the mighty Onset, blowing The Brilliant Corners off stage, The Hillsborough support gig where we played last and had The Farm playing Pump it Up with us at the end, and my last gig when we launched the album at the Haigh building in the Polytechnic (This you can see on the Vernons Myspace site).
Andy: I particularly liked when we started playing with The Onset and St Vitus Dance, and my favourite places to play were The Everyman, The Philharmonic and The Flying Picket, all in the same area of central Liverpool. I do remember that gig in London at the punk club – we just said ‘let’s play everything twice as fast’ and it seemed to work, as we went down well enough! Actually, only this week I was thinking about the Hillsborough benefit gig we played, with it having been the 20 years anniversary recently – that tragedy really did bring the whole city together it seemed.
++ Why dedicate a song to Stockton-on-Tees? Is the song based on a real story? What about Hoe Town? Which city or town is the real hoe town?
Simon: I was born in Kent, my family was from Bristol, so you couldn’t get more southern than that. Stockton on Tees expressed my thoughts and feelings about living in the North and a particular train journey from Liverpool to Stockton. Hoe Town was based on an idea by my friend Angus Yarwood who had been in a previous band with me. At the time we were living in Stratford Upon Avon so I guess that is what the song is about.
++ What was the full discography of the band including demo tapes? I only know the “Smithdown Road” LP on Probe Plus. Why did you call it like that, was that big road important in The Vernon’s life?
Simon: Many friends lived on the road, in fact I think Tom did. The other names were Nil Draw Scored and A Slight run in with the Devil and my favourite – Twelve Variations on the Theme of Lurve – which I would like to use one day.
Tom: This is true, I lived there. Despite that, I never liked the name of the album much . . . I did like the cover, though, which came from a book of black and white 1950s Life/Magnum photographs I had bought in a jumble sale, even if someone rather overdid the “sepia” tint for us which in the end turned out kind of orange. It’s a brilliant picture of an audience laughing at god knows what in some Mid-Western community hall in 1953. Completely relevant to the Vernons sound. This is the LP cover I’m talking about – the limited edition cassette had a big blue bald head on it.
Andy: We did quite a few demos, and the final one before Smithdown Road was called ‘I Think My Hamster’s Yodelling’, paid for by Geoff at Probe…sold quite a few of those. As to the name Smithdown Road – I think that we pretty much all lived on or near it at some point…
++ How did you end up signing with Probe Plus? Was Geoff Davis a friend or maybe a big supporter of your shows?
Simon: Andy had a lot of contact with Geoff so he can answer this the best.
Andy: Probe Plus were THE indie label in Liverpool, and at the time were one of the highest profile in the UK due to Hal Man Half Biscuit’s success. We had had some majors sniff around a bit but to be honest I never thought that we’d get a major deal – we were an indie band through and through. Mick Bouvier was managing The Vernons at the time and he and I hassled Geoff by constantly going into his offices and trying to get him along to gigs. I guess in the end we wore him down! At any rate I’d like to think he became a friend and I have enormous admiration for what he has done with Probe and how he has kept his love of music fresh.
++ How influential was that amazing Liverpool scene from the early eighties, with The Wild Swans, The Lotus Eaters, The Pale Fountains and more?
Simon: I loved that liverpool scene. I still have Revolutionary Spirit by The Wild Swans – a great record. I was a massive Bunnymen fan and loved The Teardrop Explodes and at the time I was listening alot to Across the Kitchen Table by The Pale Fountains. But I was also well into The Loft, Primal Scream, early James, The Pastels and The Doors. I think you can hear a lot of their influence in the album.
Andy: Ditto – for me it was The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes who I looked up to in the Liverpool scene. I have to say though that The La’s were totally brilliant – there was a time when they first were emerging that you could watch them pretty much every night somewhere in town, and they had awesome songs. It was such a shame that the album took years to appear and when it did it was strangely neutered.
Tom: Liverpool was a great place to be at that time – and probably still is, although I have only been back twice in about 20 years.
++ Be honest, do you really wish you were an American as one of your song says? Have you ever come to America at all?
Simon: The song was supposed to be ironic – it is a very stereo typed view of Americans. I guess living in Stratford and seeing all the American tourists in their chequered shorts and baseball caps did colour my view of them. However, I have been to Seattle recently and I loved it and the people. I also listen to lots of American music – Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Emily Jane White, Camper Van Beethoven, and I think if I had to name my favourite writer it would be Kurt Vonnegut.
Andy: I went to San Diego a few years ago – yay! – and loved it…someone take me back. Now.
++ How do you see Liverpool’s chances to win over Chelsea in Champion’s League? Pretty tough! Or maybe you don’t follow Liverpool but Everton?
Simon: They just lost and anyrate West Ham are the team to follow. However I do have a soft spot for Liverpool FC. I used to live in earshot of Anfield and often went. Visiting the Stadium when all the flowers were laid there after the Hillsborough disaster was very poignant.
Andy: I’m not a native of Liverpool rather I was born and bred a Stokie…and this season has been a joyous one for me seeing Stoke City back in the top division. Stoke is only 45 miles or so from Liverpool, and I remember going to Eric’s to see The Dickies on a matinee show when I was about 15 – brilliant!
++ Why and when did you call it a day? What did you all do after splitting up?
Simon: Unfortunately I had a disagreement with the rest of the band shortly after the album was released and subsequently left. I worked in the railway industry and then moved into teaching. I now live and teach in Lyon, France. As far as music is concerned, I played with a few other people, the most serious being with a friend called Jim Noble in a group called Sunriser. But nothing has reached the dizzying heights of playing in The Vernons. I still love music and play the guitar every day.
Tom: The rest of us soldiered on for a bit but it wasn’t the same. It was very depressing, coming straight after the excitement of releasing the album. I think I was the next one to go about 3 months later. We had a new singer who was good, but it never really worked. Andy may disagree…
Andy: I DO disagree a little actually. Andy Holland was a good singer and front person, but we had lost all momentum (not to mention our audience!) after the time it took to find him and get him in – it was the timing that was all wrong really…shame as I thought we were sounding pretty good just before we packed in. After The Vernons I started playing some stuff with Jon and Haydn from St Vitus Dance (also on Probe, and reformed with a new album out), which was fun but didn’t last too long. I actually didn’t touch my guitar for years on end, but maybe 3 or 4 years ago I started playing and writing stuff again, and have something of a band going with Tom and another friend Amos. I would like to play gigs again – I really used to love playing gigs with The Vernons and that is what I look back on with most fondness. I still see some of the guys from the band – Tom, Jon and Mick – and the Myspace page I put together got me back in touch with Simon B, Andy Delamere and Geoff. I’ve stayed great friends with Haydn and it was his idea to do the Myspace page…
++ Anything else you’d like to add?
Simon: Still working on that ‘difficult second album’!
Tom: Hey Simon! Considering your employment history and current location it is quite odd / ironic / coincidental / remarkable that you once wrote a song called Running Free on the TGV… Lyon, of course, being the terminus of the inaugural TGV line when it opened on September 27th 1981.
Andy: It’s good to be in touch again with various Vernons-types across the globe after all this time…and thanks for your interest, Roque!