Thanks so much to Pete, Hutch, Mark and Michelle, all four members of The Speedpuppies, for this great interview! They just released on this label (Cloudberry of course!) a retrospective CD that includes their 5 recorded songs and they are so fantastic! The Speedpuppies were a short-lived band from Stoke-on-Trent on the late eighties, and many may know that Pete went to be part of The Rosehips and he is nowadays half of the fantastic duo Horowitz! If you want to listen some more tunes, drop by their myspace!
++How is Stoke this winter? Are you getting ready for Christmas?
Hutch: I’m no longer in Stoke but I was there for last Christmas and loved it. Sub zero temperatures and a warm welcome in the pubs.
Pete: It’s getting colder by the day and there aren’t many leaves left on the trees that grow amid the urban destruction that passes for redevelopment. I’ll be stocking the fridge with beer and checking pub opening times ready for the Christmas break.
Mark: It’s cold and I’m almost done shopping which is a first.
++ How did you all knew each other? How do you remember Stoke’s scene back then?
Hutch: I met Pete through mutual friends probably at one of the local indie nights, or maybe even at the Wayfarer which was this cheesy pub disco in Stone where I lived. We regularly bumped into each other at various gigs. Michelle’s sister was at school with my sister and we probably knew each other through mutual friends around Stone.
Mark: I knew Pete from The Rosehips days and got introduced to Hutch & Michelle through him.
Michelle: I can’t remember how we got together – maybe in the local pub, through friends of friends – but I’m not sure. I do remember practicing at Hutch’s parents’ house and we occasionally used some practice studios in Stoke. We played several gigs around Stoke and recorded the demo. I believe we had a break during the summer of 88, when I went to work on a camp in New York State. We had the gig at “The Zoo” when I came back.
Pete: Hutch, together with our mutual friend Ade Brightmore, started putting on an alternative non-goth nights at Parkers No. 7 in Stone. Back then, it was goth, goth, goth – that was THE alternative – but not at Parkers, where it was the Mary Chain, Primitives, Shop Assistants, Membranes, Age Of Chance et al. The Rosehips spurred me into thinking that I could actually be in a band, rather than just play guitar in my bedroom and that’s where the Speedpuppies began. We were a four piece originally, with Michelle on drums and Liz singing. It rehearsals, Liz in her stripey top and shades, looked like Alex Shop Assistant and really, I just hoped we could do something along Shop Assistant lines. Liz used to take gig photos of lots of 80s indiepop bands – someone should try to coax her to put them online! Anyway, maybe it was shyness or nerves but Liz couldn’t and wouldn’t sing in public and left the band, when we were offered our fist gig. Michelle moved to singing and took to it like a duck to water. Until Mark joined, we used my old Boss DR-110 drum machine at gigs. Without a drummer, we used to practice at Hutch’s parents house – Mrs Hutchinson used to bring us tea and cake in the middle of our practices! I already knew Mark from The Rosehips and when he saw us play with a drum machine, he offered to drum for us.
Before The Speedpuppies formed, I put an advert in the window of a local music shop, along the lines of “Guitarist seeks….influences – The Shop Assistants and Sex Pistols.” Naturally, some goth types answered! We had a few rehearsals in a student living room in Stoke. I borrowed a friend’s electric guitar, which had previously sounded great, but he’d sawn off the top part of the body, to make it look like the one that Pete Shelley used in the Buzzcocks. The guitar now sounded a pale imitation of its former self but nevertheless, we rehearsed Bowie’s Queen Bitch and a few other covers. Richard, who was the singer/non singer (it’s a long story, Roque!), became a good friend and acted as driver (and saviour) when I had to get from Stoke to Plymouth and back in one night to play a Rosehips gig.
++ Which other bands from Stoke you liked?
Hutch: The Rosehips were excellent. There was also a band called Exit Condition who were a three piece with what sounded to me like an early Husker Du.
Pete: There were some great bands in Stoke around that time. The Sainsburys are one of the great long lost indiepop bands. Someone should force Dave Wood to locate the master tapes and get the tracks heard! In fact, I might have another go myself! They were brilliant. Ant and later, Mark from the Sainsburys, were also in The Rosehips. Vicarage Gardens were excellent, like an early REM. Honeycrash were a shambolically and heroically fun and funny live band and made one ace single; The Anythings were a cool Velvets influenced band but they seemed to disappear! We used to go and see Flame On! and Exit Condition who were ferocious bands, very much influenced by 80s American hardcore.
Mark: The punk ones mainly – Adversary, Exit Condition, Reverse – it was quite a close-knit community
++ Why did you decide to change the band name from The Safe Boys to The Speedpuppies?
Mark: You’ll have to ask the others. I just hit the tins at the back.
Hutch: The Safe Boys came from first line of the song Poison of Passion. I’ve always thought coming up with band names is a hundred times harder than actually writing the songs. The name goes on the posters and the record covers. It carries all the power. It should stick with people whether they hear the music or not -whether they like the music or not. Plus finding a name that everyone in the band agrees with is tough. I think we just came to the decision that the Speedpuppies was a better name.
Pete: We couldn’t agree on a name for a long time and it was only when we had our first gig that we had to come up with one – The Safe Boys. I don’t think any of us were ever 100% happy with it but we’d rejected The Night Porters and others and we were desperate! The 1988 live tape was recorded at Hudson’s nightclub (Alan Hudson of Stoke City, Chelsea and England fame!) when we were The Safe Boys.
++ I think the Speedpuppies is a great name! But how did you come up with such a name?
Hutch: It was, I believe, one of Flame On! who came up with the name for themselves (and possibly had rejected it). Ant Rosehip told us about it and I think we grabbed it before somebody else got in there. It’s cheekily ambiguous.
Pete: Yes, it was Flame On! On the day we recorded the demo, we were the Speedpuppies, although the name on the master cassette says Doreen Slater and the Speedpuppies. Glenn Rosehip popped into the recording session and, at the end of the session, persuaded us that Doreen Slater and the Speedpuppies was a vast improvement. Caught up in the moment, we thought it was great and used it on the cover of the cassette but in the cold light of day, it didn’t really suit us, so we shortened it back very quickly! I don’t think Michelle felt comfortable with people thinking she might be Doreen Slater!
++ What about the demo you recorded? There was no interest from labels at that time? It’s strange as it is so good!
Hutch: To be honest we were all pretty new to this and wouldn’t have had a clue how to market ourselves effectively. That said, Pete may have sent it out to a few labels. At this time there were hundreds of bands all over the country. You had to be something pretty special to get industry types to travel out from one of the bigger cities.
Pete: I sent about half a dozen out to “indiepop” labels – sorry Hutch and Michelle; it’s my fault that we never got into the hands of the industry AR men! I sent cassettes to Sarah, Subway, Raving Pop Blast, Sowing Seeds and 53rd and 3rd. Sarah replied to say no thanks, but apart from that, we had no response.
++ How did the songwriting process worked for the band? Did you have more songs that never got the chance to be recorded?
Hutch: I’m sure we had a few other songs. There was certainly a cracking cover of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5. Michelle liked Dolly and insisted on doing the track and coerced us. I’d thought that C&W was crappy but we really punked it up well and it probably could have been a great single. Everyone cheered when we played it live. The songwriting was usually each of us getting bold enough to bring out little bits of melodies and lyrics and stitching them together. There may have been a few where an individual had a full song and then the rest of us added little bits here and there – like spice to a curry. Before we came to remaster these songs I’d have had a problem remembering much about them. As soon as I heard them little bits do leap out. The Killing Time was definitely Pete’s lyric. I can remember writing elements of Poison of Passion because it was during the initial Aids/HIV hysteria and it was meant to be describing some dystopian love tryst. I think that a few of us were exorcising the demons of failed relationships in those words. Half a Chance has some nasty sentiments. I cringe when I listen to some of those lines. I suspect that there were many more songs that, given time would have surfaced from each of us. Pete would have had several dusty notebooks tucked away within his guitar case. There was still much shyness to overcome before we could confidently express ourselves in front of each other.
Pete: The Dolly Parton cover was one that we used to hammer out. I came up with The Killing Time and part of Poison of Passion and I remember Hutch teaching us Half A Chance. There were a few more that we used to play – The Man You Left Behind, Obvious Clue and The Morning After, which are on a live recording from 1988. There may be a few more half finished ones on the 4 track cassettes.
Michelle: I only wrote one song as far as I can remember “You’ll Never Know” – glad it made it onto the demo tho ; )
++ Which is your favourite song of yours? why?
Hutch: I like Serenade because the arrangements seem the most advanced. Michelle does some great overdubbed vocals and we really got that lift when the chorus kicks in. There’s a nice little guitar riff that I think Pete came up with in the studio at Rugeley.
Pete: At the time, The Killing Time was my favourite. Michelle kept the backing vocals to herself and the first we knew about them was in the studio singing them! Now it’s probably You’ll Never Know or Serenade.
Mark: The Killing Time
++ You played around six gigs in about a year and a half, which is the gig you remember the most and why?
Hutch: We did one of the first in a club up at Newcastle (Under Lyme) when we still had the drum machine and it was a pain in the arse to get the right song going on it. Newcastle had quite a hipster crowd and I can remember feeling nauseous I was so nervous. Michelle suddenly became brilliantly confident in front of an audience. It was very shambolic but I think we made our mark. Somebody chalked some graffiti about us (or Michelle) on one of the underpass walls in town and to me that was a worthy accolade.
Pete: The one at Hudson’s when we were The Safe Boys, was great. Just the feeling of standing in front of a loud guitar amp was a blast! The Rosehips played as well and there was lots of paper confetti around from the travelling Fat Tulips.
++ After the Speedpuppies were over, Mark continued on a band called Flame On! I don’t think I’ve heard about this band, I guess they were fans of The Human Torch? Care to tell me a bit more about it?
Mark: They were a punk band already going. They had a great double bass drum drummer called Rob who used to play in cowboy boots and a guy called Clive on bass! The first band I was in featured Mark & Simon from Flame On! so when Rob and Clive left, Mark shifted across to bass and I jumped in on the kit.
Pete: Flame On! were very much influenced by American hardcore. They used to rehearse every week and seemed to have a batch of new songs for every gig! Mark’s drumming for the Speedpuppies was fantastic and we played together a few years later in Jack In The Green.
Hutch: Mark’s drumming was inspirational. When I heard those tracks again it was the first thing that stood out. You stick it behind a few fledgling tunes and suddenly you have raw adrenalin coursing through them. I think Flame On! got their name from a Birthday Party tune. I can’t remember their tunes too well but they were much heavier than us.
++ What happened with Hutch and Michelle? Were they involved with any other bands after?
Michelle: I still love music but my singing is mostly reserved for bath times, which is probably a good thing!!!! Some of my family still live in Stone which is where we all met, and I go back there a couple of times a year.
Hutch: I’ve been in a few bands over in Sydney but have never released any tunes. I’m one of those blokes that often get credits on CDs for lending the band my amp or something J . I DJ’d (mainly soul music) on BondiFm for a year. I’m not currently playing in any bands but I don’t feel that I’ve yet reached the end of my musical journey – whatever the vehicle may be.
++ Are you The Speedpuppies still in touch? What are you doing nowadays?
Hutch: This project has brought us back in contact. I live in Sydney and travel back infrequently but I hope we all get chance to catch up for a beer when I’m next in England.
Michelle: After “The Speedpuppies” I went off to Manchester University to train to be an Art Teacher, played quite a lot of Volleyball, and tried my hand at DJ ing for a while. I am now living in Oxfordshire, and run a Creative Arts Faculty at a Secondary School in Wiltshire.
Pete: I play in Horowitz and record friends’ bands. The Pete Green and the Corporate Juggernaut LP is partly recorded and is sounding ace. Darren and Caroline from The Blanche Hudson Weekend (ex-Manhattan Love Suicides) recorded 5 tracks here and I’m chuffed to high heaven to have played on a couple of them – they’re fantastic; I’ve been helping out Falling and Laughing, who incorporate elements of indiepop, post-rock and Sonic Youth type guitar noise – Oddbox Records are putting out their single/ep in the new year. And there’s a new Horowitz LP and a few singles to be recorded too!
++ Going back to the Christmas subject, ask Santa for a gift!
Hutch: Stoke City to beat Manchester City 0-4 on Boxing Day. Video footage of Gallagher brothers crying in their seats.
Mark: A time machine.
Pete: I’d be mightily thrilled with a copy of The Electric Pop Group’s new LP.
Michelle: The winning lotto ticket please!
++ Thanks so much for the interview! Anything you’d like to add?
Pete: Thanks so much for the release! It’s brought back great memories and, it’s put us back in touch again after all this time.
Hutch: Of the four people on that record I’m the only one who isn’t teaching in some shape or form. How did that happen and what does it say about my ability to communicate?
Michelle: It’s been great bringing The Speedpuppies back to life – even if it has been a virtual reunion so far. It’s a really good feeling to have the CD released after 25 years – cheers.