Thanks so much to John Parkes for the great interview!
Note from John: I met up with Rob (the original Greenhouse bass player) to talk about some of these questions – so this is as accurate as we’re likely to get!
++ When and how did Greenhouse formed? Maybe all of you were studying at Leed University? Who were the original lineup?
Not as simple a question as you might think! I’d been in a band called the Sinister Cleaners who were around between about 1983 and 1987 who split up when Andrew the guitarist left. The Cleaners had been very democratic and all balanced each other personality-wise so the remaining members were very unsure about finding a replacement and kind of felt it was a logical point to end anyway. I decided to form a new band and asked Simon Smith the Sinister Cleaners drummer to join me. Adverts in shops (I think!) found us Chris Sheldon and I bumped into Rob England the bass player at a music shop when I was putting up an ad on a notice board – both were from Leeds and had never been students, though me and Simon had been (but were no longer). Simon played on the first recording session but at some point he was asked to join the Wedding Present. He may have been in the Greenhouse and then left to join the Weddoes or he may have been helping us out after he’d joined them. We can’t remember which! So, Simon played on the first recordings but soon had to leave and was replaced by Tom Kincaid on drums.
Original line-up – John Parkes, guitar and vocals, Rob England bass and backing vocals, Chris Sheldon, guitar and backing vocals and Simon Smith on drums (soon to be replaced by Tom Kincaid on drums).
++ How many lineup changes were in the band and why did you call the band Greenhouse?
Another complicated question! After the initial (and early) drummer change we stayed the same until Chris Sheldon left to join a short lived outfit called ‘Ringo’s High’ We got Simon King in on guitar – though at some point (after a year or so?) Simon left and Chris re-joined! There are actually 3 guitarists on some of the Greenhouse recordings (most of the second album features Simon King with Chris Sheldon’s additions often using a guitar synth). I think the last line-up change was when Tom Kincaid left (or was asked to leave) and replaced with Paul Hegarty who appeared on the final recording session. The band split when original bass player Rob left and a suitable replacement was never found. Chris and me auditioned a couple of bass players while Paul the drummer waited and got bored I think. We never found anyone to replace Rob and at some point we obviously got bored looking. Chris and I did some recordings with computer drums but never found a full band until we’d gone our separate ways,
++ Where the band members involved with bands before or after forming Greenhouse?
Yes! I was in the Chorus (including 2 people who later joined the Wedding Present) who released one 7 inch single in 1985 and the Sinister Cleaners before Greenhouse. I was in Fuzzbird and Whole Sky Monitor www.wholeskymonitor.co.uk afterwards, as well as doing solo acoustic stuff www.johnparkes.com
Chris Sheldon was in Dorian Grey (or is that Gray?) before, Ringo’s High in the middle and later Glo-Star – and more recently the Dental Experience. Rob was in the Jazz Hipsters before and Pop Threat afterwards. I’m not sure about Simon King and Tom Kincaid to be honest.
None of these bands were really successful though there was the odd recording, tape and 7inch. The Sinister Cleaners recently (and briefly) reformed to finish off and record 4 songs written in 1987 which were put together with the 3 12 inch EPs from 1986 / 1987 to complete the Shine CD last year. Fuzzbird did 2 albums and Whole Sky Monitor have done 2 so far with a third partly recorded.
++ Your first two singles were on your own Firebomb Radio One label, right? Why did you decide to self-release and how was the experience of running a label?
By the time of Greenhouse I’d been involved in a number of self-released projects. Originally it came out of the post punk ethic about doing it for yourself; but really it was the only way we knew to get records out having never done that whole chasing big record companies in London thing which didn’t seem to work anyway. Some things about it were great like going to get records cut at posh cutting rooms where you could chat (briefly!) about classic records that they’d mastered but mostly it was about using a glue-stick and going to the post office to spend money we hadn’t really got. There was never any money in it so it was just what you did, really.
++ After releasing these two singles you sign for Native Records. I haven’t seen much written about this label even though they even had some big names as The Darling Buds. How did you end up in that label? Maybe you send a demo tape? or maybe they came to one of your gigs?
I thought that Native approached us having been impressed by what we’d achieved with the 7 inches (a few reviews and the odd play by legendary DJ John Peel) though Rob tells me their secretary saw us supporting the Wedding Present in Sheffield (a Northern ex-industrial city quite similar and quite near to Leeds) where Native were based and we were picked up from there. Native grew quickly as a label I think but shrank quickly too!
++ What did you release on Native? I know there was the Normless album and the Mad Love 12″ single. What happened after? Did you release anything else?
Yes, there was the Normless album and the Mad as Love EP but there was also the ‘Denser’ album which had 2 drummers (though not at the same time) and 3 guitarists. This was also released on CD (a big new thing back then!) but I think we only got one copy each. Either the label or the distributor went bust and remaining copies were destroyed or re-cycled or sold off (though I haven’t seen copies come up second hand – not that I’ve been looking really) The sound was fuller and, well, ‘Denser’, hence the name.
++ I’ve been always curious about the song “Refugees from England”, what is it about?
It was all about the politics of the time – grey, grinding, right wing, boring…a friend was pregnant and she was wondering seriously about finding a better place to bring up a child. It was just a feeling that there had to be something better (probably a place with better weather for a start!) Incidentally Simon Smith played on this one without using the bass drum at all. I find this interesting though I guess not everyone would…
++ Was Greenhouse a band that gig a lot? I know you opened for The Wedding Present, any anecdotes of that gig? Any other particular gig you remember?
I seem to remember that we did a few gigs here and there and some short series of dates in parts of England and Scotland. We did open for the Wedding Present for one week of a three week tour. I asked Rob about this and we agreed that there should be stories but there weren’t any! It was great to play in front of big audiences but nothing at all rock and roll happened. I was also working as a roadie / ‘guitar and backline technician’ for the Wedding Present by this time too so I probably spent most of the time tuning other people’s guitars. I think there was too much just getting things done to enjoy it really. At one gig in Scotland we arrived to find ourselves billed as ‘the Wedding Present’s roadie’s band’ which was all a bit Spinal Tap but gigs to us were all about getting home at 5 in the morning and getting back up at 8 to take van’s back to hire companies.
++ What other Leeds band from that time would you recommend?
None! We really didn’t like any bands from Leeds at the time and still can’t think of any that we may have misjudged. We were aware of the Age of Chance and the Wedding Present (though they were going before Greenhouse) and we thought Tse Tse Fly had a great name at least but no-one who we thought were great or went to see play.
++ When and why did you call it a day? What did you do all after? Are you still in touch?
It all fell apart when Rob left and it never got put back together. No-one can really remember why Rob left but we think he just got bored and thought it wasn’t going anywhere. I think we were never really quite on the same wavelength and liked a lot of different kinds of music too.
++ Anything else you’d like to add?
We should also mention ’57 Headmen’. This was mainly Chris, Rob and a portastudio doing short experimental pasted together sound sketches. These short tracks were put between the ‘proper’ songs on both albums. We had a CD of the ‘Denser’ album somewhere and when we turned it onto MP3s found that these tracks were ‘stuck’ to the longer songs so we need to sort that out. We also need to find a CD copy of the first album (we did have one from a French release!) When we do we’ll make them free for download via myspace. Not all the recordings are as great sonically as we’d have liked but they still sound pretty good.
There was a Radio One session for John Peel too which I think we were pretty pleased with.
Greenhouse – On The Ocassion