Thanks so much to Bill Prince and John Niven for the great interview! Please check out more of their songs and get in touch with them on myspace!
++ Dave Sheppard wrote: “After flirtations within the narrow parameters of “indie pop” (and several line ups) Wishing Stones mainman Bill Prince was now fronting a blowzy-but-deft rock’n’roll quarter.” I’m wondering how many line up changes did The Wishing Stones had and how did the final line up came together? How did you all knew each other?
Bill: I’d been writing songs before the Loft split, and decided to try and put my own band together. I was introduced to a guitarist, Seth Hodder, by the late, great Phil Hall. We then recruited a bassist (Karen O’Keefe) and drummer (John Wills) and embarked on some dates organized by Sub Aqua Records founder Jeff Barrett. One of these took us to Scotland where we were supported by Celebrate Texas, featuring John Niven and Stewart Garden on guitars, Paolo Righetti on bass and Andy Kerr on drums. I seem to remember John joining the Wishing Stones on stand-in guitar after we parted company with Seth before the rest of his band joined him in London. Next, Karen left and John joined Loop, so Celebrate Texas effectively became the second incarnation of the Wishing Stones (with Paolo driving the tour van!)
++ What about the “narrow parameters of indie pop” phrase. Do you agree with him? I do see that The Wishing Stones got more rock-ish but I still feel there’s indiepop in them. Did you listen or followed any indiepop bands back then?
Bill: There was definitely a ruling aesthetic about the scene back then that banned long guitar solos and leather trousers. The Loft had done a lot to break that down, but we were still perceived as indie, albeit at the rockier end of the prevailing early-eighties American roots/psychedelia scenes. (True Indie having not really arrived at that point.) Pete Astor had described his songwriting as applying Nick Drake’s lyrics with Creedence’s rhythms, which seemed a very cool idea (even if RT’s Geoff Travis dismissed it as preposterous) so I extended the brief by attempting a fusion of Richard Hell And The Voidoids and The Band. The Loft had covered Hell’s “Time”, I moved the story on by covering “Going Going Gone”, a track from the album Dylan recorded with the Band (“Planet Waves”), also covered by Hell (See what I did there?). It was referential rather than reverential, which isn’t always the easiest distinction for others to appreciate. Anyway, that was the “sonic template” as Pat Collier at Greenhouse Studios taught us to say.
++ Why did you name the band The Wishing Stones?
Bill: I grew up on the coast in Devon, and along the sea wall were two-diamond shaped stones a footstep apart. A few in the town believed if you stepped simultaneously on both and made a wish, it would come true. I’ve no evidence of that being the case, but it seemed a nice set of words. I was made painfully aware of how closely it resembled the Weather Prophets only later…
++ You started as a band in 1986, in Glasgow. There were so many great pop bands then and I feel there was a healthy scene. What do you miss the most from those days? Do you feel Glasgow has changed much?
John: As Bill said, he didn’t really start the band in Glasgow, the Wishing Stones were a London band who later co-opted three Glasgow kids into the line up. Stewart, Andy and I all moved to Glasgow around 1984 and it was a great time to be a teenager into pop music – we saw the first gigs by Primal Scream, The Mary Chain. We saw The Loft at Splash One when Bill was playing bass for them. They were kind of like rock Gods to us at the time, they were so far ahead of what we were trying to do with our band: they had records out, they’d been on TV, they’d been in the NME. So, for me, getting to play with Bill was like being asked to join the Rolling fucking Stones. As you’ve probably gathered we inhabited a very small universe at that time. What do I miss most from those days? Being 19 years old. That was pretty good. Has Glasgow changed? In terms of it being a happening music city I’m sure it still is, but I’m not qualified to comment. I’m a very old man now.
++ Your first single, Beat Girl, is a fantastic slice of guitar pop. Maybe it’s my favourite Wishing Stones track, so I have to ask how did this song came to life! Was it based in a real life story maybe? Also how did you end up on Head Records?
Bill: Like everyone at that time, I was caught up in the Velvet Underground/Factory scene as representing one of the cooler periods in pop. And, like everyone else, I’d read the Edie biography. The title came from an Adam Faith film that was on TV one afternoon. I didn’t watch it, but I thought it was a good name for a song. I don’t remember writing it, but I do remember feeling it had that simple rolling chord structure of a VU/Loft song and liking it for that. Head was a label set up by Jeff Barrett while he was working for Creation Records. We and the Servants became its first acts.
++ After a second release on Head you moved on to Sub Aqua to release two great singles. Why did you change labels? Was this a good move? Care to tell me a bit more about Sub Aqua? I don’t really know much about the label.
Bill: I seem to remember there was an issue with the name – Jeff had taken it from the Monkees’ film but someone else had the rights to it. I can’t recall whom, but I do remember he wasn’t someone to tangle with so Jeff decided to go for the poppier, janglier sounding Sub Aqua – complete with leaping dolphin logo – and we were fine with that. Everything else, including the manufacture and distribution deal stayed the same.
++ How do you remember your last gig supporting Spacemen 3 in Leicester Square, London? How did that go? Which other gigs you remember vividly and why?
Bill: I don’t remember very much at all, I’m afraid. As with all bands in the throes of breaking up, there was a lot of emotion and anger flying around that no one was quite prepared to express or tackle head-on. We hadn’t split by then, but the air was bad… I have fonder memories of a show we played with thin White Rope at Dingwall’s. Stewart and John had been arrested the night before for urinating in public, and got out just in time to play the gig. We opened with an a capella “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” which had something of the Blues Brothers about it but made us laugh…
John: The Spacemen 3 gig was awful. The band themselves were fine, really nice guys, but their fans were kind of like Deadheads – you know, people so into the Grateful Dead they don’t listen to anything else. They just hated us and we were getting heckled through our entire set, so it was just a bad, bad night. I remember being in the van afterwards trying to get out of Leicester Square and we were arguing about whether to put De La Soul or Robbie Robertson on the tape player. Really fighting about it. It had reached that kind of point. But Bill’s right about Dingwall’s – that was probably the best show we ever did. I remember coming offstage just shaking because it had been so good. The place was packed out and the audience were going nuts and we played great and the sound was really good – just one of those nights when everything was in the pocket. ‘Superheaven’, as Debbie Harry called it.
++ When and why did you call it a day? Were any of you involved with bands after?
Bill: We completed an album in early ‘88, and then it sort of went downhill from there. Basically we imploded before we could release “Wildwood”. No musical differences that I was aware of, but some competing personal agendas. Andy joined a band back in Scotland called Spirea X. John has played since and I became a bedroom folkie. Still am.
John: I behaved terribly I’m afraid. I got involved in a relationship with Bill’s girlfriend at the time, so we had all that to deal with as well the fact that it was a strange time musically, late 88, 89. Major labels hadn’t yet cottoned onto signing indie bands, dance music was huge and we seemed to be stuck in this no man’s land. I think you can ride out tangled personal relationships, sleeping with each others partners and stuff, if you’re the Rolling Stones in 1969 – pots of cash and constantly touring and recording – but, being in the Wishing Stones in 1989, it was a lot harder to rise above it. That we were so poor was another thing. I remember being at the London marathon (just as a spectator!) in April 1989, right towards the end, and between three of us we didn’t have enough money to buy an ice cream. I thought, ‘mmm, this is a tough way of life here…’
++ What do The Wishing Stones dedicate their time nowadays?
Bill: I’m a journalist, John’s a writer, Stewart is still in the music business and Andy is a health professional.
++ The Wildwood album was released two years after you split. Why did this happen? How did it end up being released by Heavenly Records? Why wasn’t it released while you were still going on?
Bill: After the split happened, the album was shelved for obvious reasons, but later on, Jeff got a big deal for Heavenly records and asked if he could release the record. There seemed little point as John and I weren’t even speaking at the time, but there was no real reason to refuse either, so it came out in 1991 I seem to remember.
++ Talking about the album, what are your favourite songs on it and what do you remember from recording it? Any anecdotes you can share?
Bill: I can remember recording virtually all of it, at Greenhouse Studios off the City Road in London. We had a fair amount of time – 10-15 days in all I think – and we’d worked on the songs long and hard, until some of them expired under the weight of our own expectation unfortunately, particularly the longer ones. I’d been listening to a lot of Alex Chilton (solo and Big Star) which definitely influenced the sound. I’m particularly fond of “Big Black Sky” because it was the first tune we put down, and “Dying On The Vine” – my attempt to write and record the Beach Boys’ “Til I Die” (!) – is something I wish I’d had the time, money and talent to record again. Recording was relatively straightforward – in retrospect we probably didn’t push ourselves enough to alter for the record what we’d been playing live– but I remember mixing as a grind. It all got a bit lost, and after we’d finished I’d wished we’d gone for more ‘garage’ feel (I was listening to a lot of Replacements again by then). C’est la vie.
John: I’ll do a few ‘I remembers’. I remember recording ‘Long Road out of Town’ – we were a really tight band at that point and that song had such a great groove. Even Pat Collier (producer) was rocking away and he’d been in the game a long old time. I remember sitting at the mixing desk with Pat while Bill did the guitar solo out in the live room and thinking ‘Shit, this sounds fucking great!’ Because up until that point our experience of recording had been the usual indie band thing of not-enough-time-in-a-really-shit-studio. It was wonderful to be recording at Greenhouse, which was a pretty top flight facility in those days: The House of Love, The Wonderstuff and Primal Scream had all done their records there. I remember getting off the tube at Old Street in the mornings really excited and happy to be recording an album, you know, being 22 and doing exactly what you’d wanted to do since you were 13 or 14. Also, you’d get fed! They had catering! Shepherd’s pie and curries and things. Heaven. But, as Bill says, when it came to mixing it all got a bit lost. It was very hard to make the kind of record we wanted to make in the 1980s. Producers and engineers all thought Bon Jovi had the greatest drum sound in the world. Everything wound up with gated reverb all over it and loads of compression. If you brought in a Richard Hell record, or a Band record and said ‘can we make it sound like this?’ They’d look at you like you were deranged. It wasn’t until Oasis came along that people realized again that you all you needed to record a rock and roll band were some good amps and a few mikes in the room. If we had the chance again I think we’d make it a lot sparser, dirtier and looser.
++ Last year you reformed for the Truck Festival and I hear you played a great show! How did the idea to reform for this even happen? Was it easy to start again? Was rehearsing with your mates the same as years ago? What was the best part of playing again
Bill: John and I had recently got back in touch and he reminded me it was the 20th anniversary since our split. We decided to do a weekend of rehearsal/jamming for old time’s sake, which we did, with a little help on keyboards from Sean from the Rockingbirds. That was great fun, and we casually discussed doing a gig. Stewart was involved with Truck so they kindly offered us a Saturday late afternoon set. The Wishing Stones had never played a festival so it seemed like the perfect thing to do, just for the record, so to speak. The whole weekend was great: John had been at Latitude the night before (Friday) reading from Kill Your Friends, so we all met up in Oxfordshire, enjoyed a couple of beers in the sun and played to a small but appreciative audience made up almost entirely of under30s, which slightly freaked us out! I also got to see Martin Simpson and the Lemonheads, and we all ended up back at the local Travel Tavern drinking Evan Dando’s rider. Good times.
++ Will there be any surprises from The Wishing Stones in the future? Maybe another gig? Or plans to reissue all the back catalogue?
Bill: We now stay in touch, Andy’s in Scotland so we can’t play but hopefully we’ll put something else together before not too long. There’s a song we never recorded that we re-learnt, rehearsed and played at Truck which I’d love to release one day.
++ If you were to ask for three wishes to a wishing stone, what would they be?
Bill: 1) Learn to play piano
2) Learn not to stress the little stuff and face up to the big stuff
3) Get my Byronic brown locks back
++Best thing of being a Wishing Stone?
++ Thanks again so much, anything else you’d like to add?
Bill: We got to play. And record.
John: Hey kid, you got to hear the band play.