Thanks so much to Chris Yeamans for the interview! Watch the video for “Take it All” here!
++ How does Friends of Harry start? Who were the members and how did you all knew each other?
Friends of Harry came about when parts of two Newcastle bands joined together. Those bands were ‘Pop, Dick and Harry’ and ‘The Bats’. FoH were Chris Yeamans, Sav Scatola, Zoe Lambert, Phyll Scammell and Rob Brown. Newcastle is quite a small city and we new each other through the local music scene. Pop Dick and Harry (PDH) and The Bats did a few gigs together. When both bands split up around the same time, it was an easy choice to make to join the two bands together.
++ Why the name “Friends of Harry”?
We kept the ‘Harry’ from Pop Dick and Harry . Funnily enough, I’d been reading an article about some shadowy organisation called ‘friends of harry’ who were these group of politicians/businessmen planning for in the event of nuclear catastrophe (which seemed quite likely at the time) by hiding machinery /food etc at the bottom of some deep mines around the world. I just stole the name !
++ You gigged quite a lot around Europe and you say Switzerland became a second home for you! Which other countries did you play in and how come you were so well known in Switzerland?
Newcastle had a swiss connection from the mid 1980’s when a Newcastle band called ‘The Ground’ were touring in Europe. They made friends with some people from Aarau, near Zurich. These people had some friends who were film makers who wanted to make a film involving English bands. By the time they got round to making the film, ‘The Ground ‘had split up. 3 Newcastle bands were chosen to be in the film, PDH luckily happened to be one of them. The filmmakers came over to England to film the bands in Newcastle, then a tour was organized for us in Switzerland, and we were filmed on tour. It was very exciting at the time. PDH split up before the film was released, so FoH went back to Switzerland to do another tour to promote the film. The film was shown in bars and venues , then FoH would perform after the film. The film was also shown at the cinema and later on TV. As you can imagine it was great publicity for us and we became quite well known because of it. This lead to further tours around Europe and a few TV appearances. We played in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Poland , Czechoslovakia (as it was at the time).
++ What was your favourite way to travel around Europe? car? train? plane? and why?
Van, without a doubt . We had a transit van with room for a bed in it. We spent so many hours in that van it became like a second home to us.We had a tape deck in it so we would all make compilation tapes of our favourite songs to listen to while we toured. We were nearly going to call our album ‘Stand by Your Van’ in homage to our wonderful Ford Transit. Occasionally if it was for a one off gig, we flew to Switzerland, but generally it was in our white van, packed to the gills with guitars drums and amps.
++ Which are the gigs you remember the most and why? Tell us some good anecdotes!
There were a few standout memories
1. Playing at Reading Festival on my birthday was pretty amazing. We played quite early in the day, so it meant we could spend the rest of the weekend relaxing, getting drunk and watching lots of great bands.It was one of those lovely hot weekends.perfect
2. Playing ‘live’ on radio 1 in Newcastle. Radio 1 used to have huge listening figures. every summer they would go out on tour on the ‘Radio One Roadshow’ We got picked to do the Newcastle show in a huge park in the city. There was a massive live crowd watching us and an estimated 5 million listeners on the radio . Got interviewed by some famous DJ and did a couple of songs live.
3. Doing a live gig in Czechoslovakia. It was an outdoor folk festival (it appears on the ‘take it all’ youtube clip).The Czechs had just had a revolution and got rid of their communist government. Apparently up to that point, folk music was one style of music that was ‘rebel’ music. During our first song, a lot of the older audience left because we weren’t playing pure folk music..but all these young people got up and started dancing. They came on stage and danced around us as we played. The look of joy on their faces was amazing. It was as if they had finally been let off a leash and were reveling in their freedom. It was a really profound moment in many ways.
4. This one was with Pop, Dick and Harry. We had gone to Amsterdam for a few weeks to do some busking and have a holiday. On the first afternoon, after we had finished a song, a man came up to us and asked us if we fancied doing a gig because their support band had cancelled. He gave us an address and asked us to turn up at six. When we got there it was a huge hall in the centre of Amsterdam. We came out on stage to an audience of a few thousand people. We didn’t realize we were supporting Crowded House.
++ You started in 1988 as a folk/roots revival band but then you evolved to an indie pop sound. How did this progression happen? What bands influenced you in getting this new sound?
The folk roots thing came from PDH. PDH started off by doing covers of American country boogie songs..usually about trains…night train to Memphis, mystery train, that sort of thing. When I joined PDH, I started writing songs in that style. It was a great live style to have and at that time it was completely original. Audiences responded really well to it. When FoH started , we carried on with that style because it was still quite new and exciting. Then all of a sudden, that whole ‘Madchester’ beat thing happened and very quickly our sound sounded very dated. We all got into that Happy Mondays, Stone roses, Inspiral carpets music. Listening to that stuff all the time obviously influenced what I was writing. Also it was the heyday of the Pixies, so they were a big influence too. As a band it gave us a whole new lease of life cos it gave us all much more scope musically to try different things. Unfortunately, the first album was released just as we were going from one style to another, so it was a bit of a musical mess. Also we had performed hundreds of live gigs , so we were great live but had very little experience of trying to capture our strengths on record. The album was a big disappointment in that sense.
++ What’s the full discography of the band?
The band always had a do-it –yourself ethos so a lot of our songs were recorded onto tapes and sold at gigs.Our one proper album release was
‘Six Days of Madness’ on Roundabout records plus
‘Take it All’ which was released as a single from the album
++ Do you have many unreleased songs? if so, will one day we”l see them finally released?
Yep quite a few of unreleased songs. We had a whole new album ready to record. Because we financed everything ourselves, we had to decide, if we were to record a second album, that we would have to commit another 2 to 3 years of FoH to pay the record off by selling it at gigs. A few people in the band didn’t want to do that, so we decide to quit while we were ahead. There are still 2 or 3 songs that the girls sang that I think would make great pop songs for other bands to perform
++ Your song Messing About the River appeared on the tape compilation “Sailing Home”. Care to tell us a bit about this compilation?
We got to know Ray Laidlaw from a famous Newcastle band called ‘Lindisfarne’ who had the job of putting an album together for a special event in Newcastle. There was a ‘Tall Ships Race’ being started from Newcastle to some other European country that year, so a nautical themed album was brought out. We were asked to perform ‘Messing about on the river’ for the album Its an old song from the 60’s .We just went into the studio one morning, learned the song and recorded it in about 3 hours. It’s a bit of a daft song, but I actually quite like the version that we did.
++ What happened to the covers of the Take it All 7″ that they had to be hand painted? What do you remember from those days recording this single?
When we recorded the song , one of the band came up with a brilliant sort of mosaic colour picture for the front cover . Just before pressing, we found out we couldn’t afford full colour , so we had to pick just 2 colours instead. We didn’t have chance to check it out before printing. On the way to Switzerland, we stopped off in Leicester to pick up the single from this record factory. When we got the cover , we all burst out laughing. The picture of the front was totally unrecognizable because it was a 2 colour mosaic that didn’t work at all. So we stopped at the nearest art shop, bought some gold, silver and black pens and coloured the sleeves in by hand…all the way to Switzerland.I was driving so I didn’t have to colour any. All the rest of the band had sore wrists by the time they arrived in Switzerland. Each cover is unique.
++ What was the biggest highlight of Friends of Harry?
There’s so many to choose from but probably our first trip to Spain was the most memorable highlight. FoH hadn’t been together that long, but before we knew it, we were being flown out to spain, staying in nice hotels with a van and driver provided. We appeared on a TV show. As we left the building, the car was mobbed by hundreds of people trying to get autographs. It was the first(and last) time that had happened to us. We were only there for six days, but it was ‘six days of madness’ . That’s where we got the name for the first album
++ Do you still live in Newcastle? Has it changed much compared to those early 90s? Do you still follow the music scene there?
Yep I still live up here, I had kids and they grew up here. The music scene is pretty good at the moment. There are a few bands like the Futureheads who are doing really well. My girlfriend is close mates with these lot so I’ve got to know them . Also bands like ‘The Week That Was’ who are also highly acclaimed and maximo Park, who are now a huge act.
++ When and why did you call it a day? Did you keep making music after?
As mentioned previously, it was a tough choice, stop or carry on for another few years. We did it for 5 years. That’s quite a long time to spend with the same group of people. Being in a touring band is a quite intense situation…..i think we were a bit burned out. In hindsight had we taken a few months off we might have come back refreshed and carried on, but 5 years constant touring takes it toll. It drives you slightly insane.
I started in a new band in Newcastle about a year after that. There’s a homemade video on youtube ; ‘Honey Locust – Buzzer’ . I really loved this band, musically a lot more intense and more my style of music. We were described as somewhere between ‘the pixies’ and ‘the doors’ and had a good local following. It was at the time though, when guitar bands were out and hip hop was in. After that I packed in for a while but then got back into composing stuff using my PC as a home studio. there’s one of my songs on youtube ‘ Anyway by Earworm’
++ Are you still in touch with Friends of Harry bandmates? What are you all doing today?
Funnily enough we’ve been in touch recently because someone had heard ‘take it all’ and wants to try and get it ‘placed’ for an advert, film, TV programme or something like that. Apparently the song still gets played on Greater London Radio. Some guy who owns a promotion company heard it and decided he might be able to do something with it. I’m not holding out great hope, but you never know, you may switch on your TV one day and ‘Take it All’ might be on.
As for the band, Sav the guitarists became a 3D designer(computer graphics), Phyll bassist, lives in France and still performs all over the world, Zoe vocalist/accordion player is an actor. she appeared on ‘Emmerdale Farm’(a UK soap) regularly a while back. Rob drummer works doing sound/stage stuff for a theatre company , and me, well I’m just qualifying as a media teacher. I teach kids how to make music videos.It’s great fun.
Looking back it was a great 5 years with Friends of harry, we got to see a lot of places and meet loads of great people, whilst doing something that we all really enjoyed. I’m glad we got out when we did.