Thanks soooooo much to Dennis Wheatley for this interview. The Doris Days is my favourite band that never got to release anything. They were so good! I had the chance to exchange a couple of emails a year ago or so with Hayley who was also in the band, you can read about it here. Now luckily I had the chance to talk with Dennis, who was the band’s leader, on this extensive interview. I hope their recordings resurface one day, for now be sure to check this bootleg of The Basement gig on Dave Driscoll’s blog. Enjoy!
++ Hi Dennis! Thanks so much for doing the interview! Who were The Doris Days? When did the band formed? How did you know each other?
The Doris Days were:
Dennis Wheatley- me – singing, guitars, drum machines and songs
Vanessa Norwood- singing
Nic Wilson- trumpet, cornet
Simon Forrest- cello
Ed Down- guitar
Hayley Morton- keyboards
Rachel Norwoood- guitar
The band essentially grew out of songs I was writing on a course in Brighton called Expressive Arts.This gave me access to a studio (which I’d literally take my sleeping bag into for the weekend) and so The Doris Days’ recordings were made before any notion of a band. It was just me layering stuff and eventually found Simon and Nic who played trumpet and cello which started to take the songs into a whole other space which was lovely.
Ness was my girlfriend, Rachel was her younger sister (so young in fact that I think she was barely 16 at the time).
I’d met Hayley through Ness and Ed. Well Ed he was the odd one out. He wasn’t living in Brighton (in fact his day job was repairing RAF fighter jets in Norfolk) he would travel down whenever he could, full of mad energy and enthusiasm (quite a lot of it in Hayleys direction it must be said!).
He was brother of Simon Down and co-owner of the Pink label (June Brides, Wolfhounds, etc, etc)
I’m struggling to remember how we met but I remember being at his house in East London playing some songs in a lofi way and ed saying that although he couldn’t really play the guitar yet he absolutely wanted to be in the band.
It was quite a diverse bunch of people to say the least, but there was a lot of good feeling and excitement about the whole thing.
I was always quite ambitious with what I thought the band would be capable of. My reference points at the time would have been Phil Spector and Trevor Horn. BIG production!.
++ Was this your first band? Were band members involved with any other pop bands before or after The Doris Days?
Not my first band really. They would be:
One Potato- me and Stephen Harris (later of “The Aurbisons”),
Flapp- me and Sandra/Fred (who was in “12 Cubic Feet”)
Solid Space- I joined up with Matthew and Dan and we played a few gigs wrote some songs and recorded a bit in Brighton.
One Potato – used the name again for a series of gigs (”One Potato One”, “One Potato Two” etc etc.. think we got up to six?). The nucleus of these nights were myself, Jane Fox (Marine Girls) and Olly Sagar (amazing singer songwriter who sadly not enough people have heard!). We’d sing songs like Lazy Ways (I got to sing that) and other songs by Olly and me. Looking back it was part cabaret/part gig. We used to charge £1.25 to get in, spend all the money on making things to give away on the night (one night everyone got a shoe box with a present in it given out by a fully costumed father christmas in the middle of summer). We’d get other people to play too. The only ones I can remember are Clive Pig and Virginia Astley. I’d show my holiday slides, we’d play the strangest music (Reg Barney, Hughie Green, all sorts of nonsense),
I stood on stage with “Grab Grab the Haddock” a few times playing out of time percussion too, does that count?
++ Why did you choose the name The Doris Days? Were you a fan of Doris Day at all?
No not a fan at all. My dad is a huge Doris Day fan though so I’m sure that had more than a little to do with it,constantly hearing her name, etc.I was pretty relieved to change the name eventually.
++ Were you indiepop kids? I mean, did you listen to indiepop back then? or maybe even today? What were your favourite bands then?
No, not really.
I’d embraced that scene quite a bit.. I’d been on tour with the June Brides and Shop Assistants doing their live sound mixing and loved the spirit of their time. Loved meeting up with people all over the country and writing loads of letters about nonsense! loved everyone throwing themselves around in small rooms above pubs.
My music tastes had always been pretty diverse. I loved Chic as much as I loved the new Bodines single.
Favourite bands of the time would have been The June Brides, biased of course because I saw them so much. The Television Personalities for their unpredictability swagger and poise! Durutti Column,Microdisney, The Wild Swans,Eyeless in Gaza, New Order, Nick Drake, Love, Felt, Josef K, Primal Scream (there formative year anyway!), The Go Betweens, The Cure, The Buzzcocks, McCarthy, Cabaret Voltaire, lots of stuff on Crepescule, Wim Mertens I’ll have to stop the list now but I used to go to sleep listening to Virginia Astley’s “From Gardens Where We Feel Secure” or Durutti Columns first album. I was also a sucker for electro pop and loved the sound of the Pet Shop Boys early on.
strong>++ You only recorded one demo, right? Which songs were included there? Was this recorded at Grant La-Di Da’s kitchen?
You know I really can’t remember recording a Doris Days demo. I don’t think we did as such, all of the recordings from that time would have been done at college. I’ve been throwing all of the old reel to reels away recently(digitising some along the way).<
I don’t think we recorded at Grants as the Doris Days. I do remember us rehearsing later on as ‘Pacific’ and also playing a couple of songs at one of his kitchen gigs again as Pacific but just me, Ness and Rachel(think we played a cover of ’streets of your town’).
++ By the strength of what I’ve heard (which is the live gig Dave shared in his blog and “Another Day”) I’m surprised you didn’t release anything! Why was that? Were you in any other compilations?
Well things moved pretty quickly. (I think?!) between being “The Doris Days’ and renaming and resizing as ‘Pacific’.It was essentially the same band minus Hayley and Ed
++ Why didn’t the split 7″ release with The June Brides happen? Maybe you had any other releases planned?
Again this is where memory fades. I do remember having a silly falling out with Grant over something and I think this may have been it.
I honestly cant remember if he didn’t want to release it or I didn’t!
I seem to remember it was one of my recordings of a live June Brides show in Holland (?) with a rather raucous version of Sheena is a Headbanger (joined by ‘The Janitors’ on stage), probably sounded a good idea at the time. Hey Grant have you still got my cassette?!! I’m sorry if it was my fault!
++ How many songs did The Doris Days had in their repertoire? Did you gig a lot?
Probably about 10 songs! No we didn’t gig a lot, I think the basement gig you have was our second (final?) gig. That was the night Hayley and Ed got so drunk and disorderly that I asked them to continue their studies elswehere. (half joking).
++ I heard you were quite involved with indiepop and among other things you were part of the Big Twang club in Brighton! Which were the favourite gigs you booked? What was the best of running a club during those years
Yes, the Big Twang.That was great fun to be involved with. It was set up by four of us who wanted to create something a bit more homely! Create an atmosphere and community that would enjoy seeing each other every week and come along what ever the band.
It kind of evolved out of the Potato nights I’d put on previously.
Good value (always 3 bands for £2.50), a weekly fanzine type thing given out at the door, we’d try and decorate the place (the old Escape Club on the seafront in Brighton) by getting the end of print rolls from the newspaper printers. Huge rolls of newsprint that we’d hang up and paint things on.
I’d also show my slides again(!) and bit by bit I started to operate the sound mixer for the bands because the PA guy got fed up with me constantly asking him to turn something up or down.
This is how I ended up doing the live sound for the June Brides and the Shop Assistants.
Favourite gig would have to be the Magical Mystery Twang. Not sure how I organised it but I had this utopian idea that running a club would mean taking everyone on a journey at some stage. A kind of collective escape with our shared soundtrack. I was thinking of hiring a cruise ship but I figured the club wasn’t that popular yet so I settled on the idea of hiring 2 coaches and having a mystery tour.
Idea being that no one would know the bands who were playing they would all just trust me and buy the tickets!
Decided to charge £6 a ticket, asked the coach companies how far we could get for £400 they said Dorset so I said fine we’ll go that way. Spoke to someone who’s name I cant remember who lived in Dorset (friend of ‘The Chesterfields’) and somehow arranged to book a skittle alley in a pub in TempleCombe to house a gig.
I asked the June Brides and Shop Assistants and both were up for doing it, great news. I also asked the Television Personalities who loved the idea of it but then had to back out because of something terribly important that I cant remember.
Clive Pig agreed to be a wandering minstrel for the day and the rest as they say is history, well kind of.
I love Dave Driscoll’s description of the days events, very accurate me thinks:
The best of running a club was the collective energy and spirit, anything seemed possible.
It was all incredibly easy and down to earth as well. I’d speak to Alan McGee and say what 3 bands can we get for £250 and he’d always try and make me take the Weather Prophets. I’d always say No please can we pay more to not have them!! I think we ended up with them though. Alan was very persuasive!
++ Were you involved in the fanzine scene at all? Any favourites? Were the Doris Days featured in any?
No not really involved. I think the Doris Days were in some but I can’t remember which (bit of a theme my memory, sorry!)I used to get loads and loads of fanzines through the post and at gigs all over the place.
++ Do you miss those days in Brighton? What was the best of being part of The Doris Days?
I don’t miss those days, no. I’m always happy to move forward and embrace new things. I really enjoyed that time though. Felt very lucky to be involved in lots of different things, gave me a lot of confidence to go forward.
++ Why did the band called it a day? What did The Doris Days do after?
We didn’t call it a day. It was a bit unwieldy because there were so many of us and I guess something had to give. Hence the shrinkage to 5 instead of 7.
We then played an audtion for Alan McGee in my bedroom and he invited us to join Creation Records.
He wasn’t that keen on the name ‘Doris Days’ and so we thought of something a bit more appropriate and renamed the band ‘Pacific’.
Pacific made a couple of EPs for Creation. Played a few gigs the first and biggest being the ‘Doing it for the Kids’ all day show at the Forum (Town and Country Club as was then) in London and a tour with the House of Love.
We left Creation because there wasn’t the money to fund a big production in the studio to make an album .. which at the time I felt we needed.
We signed as Pacific to EMI/Capitol and Pacific shrunk from 5 to 3 to eventually 1: me.
Strange time because I was really getting into dance music, really loving stuff like ‘Strings of Life’ which I just couldn’t get out of my head for days.
We had a decent advance and spent it all on a couple of weeks recording one song in Sarm East and West Studios, lLondon and not really having anything to show for it.
£30,000 gone from the budget so I had to record at home and the only thing that was ever released on EMI was 2 promo 12″ by Pacific titled ‘Compassion’
An instrumental Balearic ditty that would be rerecorded as ‘Compass Error’ by my next group ‘Atlas’.
‘Atlas’ was myself and my A&R man from Capitol/EMI Tony Newland.
We made quite a few 12″ ‘Noontide’, ‘Compass Error’, ‘Beauty’. Did quite a few remixes of others (Fluke, Swordfish, Monaco, House of Love!) and eventually went quite downtempo with an albums worth of songs written with the rapper/poet Mc Buzz B.
Highlight for me of that period was meeting and working with the late great Billy Mackenzie. We recorded a cover of the Randy Newman (via Nina Simone) song ‘Baltimore’ and also worked on a Billy and Paul Haig song ‘Give Me Time’.
He was such an amazing character. Still sends shivers up my spine remembering the sound of him singing ‘Give Me Time’ in my hallway, so loud, incredible control. He would always be singing new songs to you. Would look you in the eye and sing the whole song a cappella from beginning to end.
I ran away from music for a while after that. Wondered what would happen if I threw myself into something else.
I chose architecture and had an amazing 4 years ending up living in Los Angeles working in a tiny office having the time of my life drawing up plans for Pierce Brosnans painting studio amongst other things.
I started listening to music again and really enjoying it. The local station was KCRW with a show called ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic’ was just amazing at the time. 3 hours of Avo Part next to The Beach Boys next to Eels etc, etc. It’s still going but not as good as when Chris Douridas was the DJ.
I was offered some money to come back to the UK and make an Atlas album. Billy Mackenzie said yes to singing some of the songs and so I agreed.
I came back and within a few months Billy had died.
I worked on with the Atlas project and eventually met someone called Nina Miranda (Smoke City, Underwater Love, etc, etc) who was in quite some mood to break free of her Smoke City constraints. She really sounded like a bird out of its cage and sang some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. Really magical to record her.
We made an album together as ‘Shrift’ (bit of a connection back to the Brighton days). Started off in this amazing studio space by london bridge which had a window out onto the Thames. Ducks would come each day to be fed and we let the sound of the river into the recordings. That space is now a Starbucks.
Here’s a short film for one of the songs.<
These days I’m doing less writing and more mixing.
I will definitely make some more music soon but for now
I do sound mixing for film and tv programmes, after all everything is music!!
++ Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for the interest
The Doris Days – Another Day