Thanks to Steve King for the interview!
++ You only released the “That’s Where Caroline Lives” single. With such a strong debut, why didn’t The Candy Darlings release any more songs?
– Well basically, Little Stu, who ran Teatime Records (and was the singer in Mousefolk) offered to release a single, which he did and then didn’t offer to do another one – and we weren’t exactly inundated with other offers. Essentially, being in a band was fun for us and I don’t think we ever viewed it as having any particluar longevity but we really wanted to make a record – mainly just to have something tangible to prove we had actually existed. I remember just staring at the sleeve (we were adamant with Stu that we wanted a proper sleeve rather than a plastic bag) – amazed that we’d actually made this thing. And when it got reviewed in the NME (they thought it was rubbish – particlulary my singing) that was all we were really after. After that, we didn’t really have the impetus to chase after a follow-up, though if anyone had offered, I’m sure we’d have taken them up on it.
++ It also strikes me that the band formed in 1985 and the debut didn’t come out till 1990. Why was that? What happened in between those years?
To be honest, it took us five years to achieve the required basic level of competence on our chosen instruments. In between, we played the odd gig, recorded 4 track demo tapes (largely for our own amusement) and made each other laugh.
++ How did the band start? I read that there were 4 Candy Darlings in the beginning.
We were friends at the same school (a posh one in Bristol) who all liked the same sort of music. If I may be permitted a digression here, I still remember my first interaction with Dom. In my first year at school, I loved Adam and the Ants and, in the custom of the day, had drawn a Warrior Ant logo on my school folder. This attracted Dom’s attention and (much to his evident delight) afforded him the opportunity to belittle the fact that I was unaware that the Ants had actually released another album before Kings of the Wild Frontier. This competitive musical one-upmanship did, however, set the tone for our entire 25 (and counting) year realtionship.
Anyway, the 4 of us (including another friend, Jerry) just decided we’d form a band and sort of fell into roles by default. Dom actually had a guitar on which he has mastered at least 4 chords – so he was the guitarist. Chris also had a guitar, on which he hadn’t mastered any chords – so he played the fattest string as a bass. I’m not sure how Jerry ended up being the drummer as I think we clubbed together for a second-hand snare but he could make a reasonable fist of keeping time. I had nothing and I couldn’t really sing but I was their mate so I was in. In the beginning, Dom and I both “sang” but I was a bit of a spare part really. In fact, in the middle of the first recording we made of ourselves, we captured Dom’s mum asking the tricky question, “so what do you do Steve?”. Anyway, we were a ‘band’ and that’s all we cared about. We lost Jerry when we all left school. Dom, Chris and I all kept in contact but, for some reason, Jerry didn’t. So we pooled our grant cheques and bought a drum machine.
++ Where does the name Candy Darlings come from?
We loved the Velvet Underground and extensive background reading lead us to Candy Darling. It also had the word ‘Candy’ in it, which fitted nicely with the JAMC orthodoxy of the mid-eighties.
++ During those years Bristol had become home of Sarah. How important was the influence of the label on the city scene? Was it inspiring at all for you?
We all bought the early records on Sarah but a greater influence on what actually went on in Bristol was probably Subway. Martin Whitehead and Rocker were much more active in terms of organising things and putting bands on. In the end, records are great but actually having somewhere to go, drink and watch bands play was much more fun than sitting at home and playing 7″s. The first Brighter single was the end of religiously buying Sarah records for me. I remember playing it and just thinking that they were a parody of a generic Sarah band – so that was it, apart from Orchids records (because the Orchids were great).
++ Did you have any favourite venue in town?
The Tropic Club. It was a fantastic place, legendary on the Bristol indie scene. we had many great nights drinking, dancing and (in Dom’s case at least) puking in there. Also the place where we played our first real gig – supporting the Fizzbombs.
++ Did you play many gigs? Which bands were your favourites that you played with?
Given that we weren’t exactly proficient musicians (and that we had to re-load the drum machine by cassette after every 4 songs) playing live was something of a fraught affair and we rarely ventured beyond the Bristol borders (and our sets never lasted more than 8 songs). Our one ‘tour’ consisted of two consecutive nights supporting Mousefolk in Nottingham and Goole. Nottingham was kinda OK, but Chris wanted to get back to Reading University the next day to study for an exam so wasn’t drinking, whilst Dom and I were, which made our performance somewhat disjointed (and probably explains why Chris got a good degree and is now Head of Money at a major high street bank and Dom and I didn’t and aren’t). Whilst Chris headed back down the motorway to further his academic career, Dom, myself and all of Mousefolk stayed at the drummer (I think) out of the Fat Tulips’ parents’ house – where I rather let myself down by making some lewd remarks about sex involving the wearing of a Mousefolk t-shirt to the drummer’s girlfriend who may, or may not, also have been in the Fat Tulips but, in any event, was wearing a Mousefolk t-shirt. The next day we headed up to Goole, Dom and I showing Mousefolk’s bass player Phil the basslines to a handful of our songs in the back of the Transit van we were all travelling in. I believe that our performances that night constituted the first (and probably the last) indie-pop gig staged at the Violent Bikers Arms in Goole. Sparsely furnished and brightly lit, it didn’t give off the warmest of vibes nor did our first interaction with the propriator – “how long do you play for?” he demanded. “What’s normal?” we queried. “Most bands hold down about 2 hours” he informed us. “Oh dear”, we thought. In front of the small, yet menacing collection of bikers and psychotic locals that constitued our audience that night, calling ourselves the Candy Darlings suddenly felt ineffably twee, and asking for a punch in the face, so we announced ourselves as “Axe of Fury”, played the 4 songs we’d taught Phil and an endurance testing 10 minute version of Pablo Picasso and ran for the door.
++ You were rejected by Sarah for being too challenging and avant-garde. That’s unbelievable!! I think your music would have perfectly fitted in their catalog. How did this happen? Maybe you didn’t send Caroline to them?
Unfortunately, we did send Caroline to them. In fact we sent them pretty much everything we recorded and our rejection by Sarah was the most painful chapter in the Candy Darlings story. Matt and Clare had always been gently encouraging, always writing back in response to our tapes (thinking about it now, this must have been such a pain for them as every pointless little indie band in the country – and I include ourselves in this – must’ve been raining tapes in on them) saying mildly positive things but without actually saying “and we’d like you to release a record on our prestigious label, please”. We held a band meeting wherein it was decided that we would (I will swear to this day that I was against it but was out-voted) write and ask them straight if they would, please, put out a Candy Darlings single. No, it turned out, they wouldn’t. In the end, they didn’t actually think we were that good.
++ Your only single came out on a Bristol label, Teatime Records, home of great acts like Mousefolk and The Driscolls. How did your songs end up being released by them? How many records were pressed? Where was it recorded? The quality is much better than the other songs I’ve heard from you (especially the two other ones that were released on tape compilations).
Fortunately little Stu wanted to branch out from just releasing Mousefolk records and offered to release one of ours. We recorded it at a proper studio in 2 days – the first time we’d ever been in one and we didn’t really know what we were doing or how to ask for the sounds we wanted. We all thought the songs sounded OK but Chris’ bass got completely lost in the mix. 1000 were pressed and I think most of them sold (though at least a few were made into handy ash-trays). Everything else we recorded was for our own amusement on a variety of cheap 4-track cassette machines.
Interesting fact: my brother James was briefly a member of the Driscolls as second guitarist. See him in action on You Tube (search “Driscolls Brittle Beautiful”) – he’s the one with the floppy fringe.
++ Who is the girl doing backing vocals on Caroline? Who wrote the songs usually in the Candy Darlings? I really enjoy the lyrics, and the guitars on the single are precious!
The girl doing the backing vocals on Caroline is, actually, Caroline – who was Chris’ girlfriend at the time. The initial basis of a song was usually written by either Dom or I and then we worked it up into something passable between the 3 of us. I think I may have mean-spiritedly wanted “Caroline” credited to just me on the record but conceded to a more democratic “King, Hall, Strange”. I don’t think Coldplay are planning a cover version so we won’t have to worry about arguing over royalties. Actually, I wanted ‘Bright New Morning’ to be the a-side but, again, I got out-voted (looking back, I seemed to get out-voted a lot).
++ What were you doing back then? were you pop fans back then? Did you follow any bands? maybe wrote a zine? going to university?
We were doing school and university. We liked a lot of bands but I recall that, for some reason, we all had a particular fondness for the Three Johns.
++ The last years of the Candy Darlings see the band changing their musical direction towards indie-dance. Why was the main reason for that? Did you all feel comfortable making that music?
This was all Dom’s idea (I was probaly out-voted again somewhere along the line). It was decided that we needed a new singer (don’t think I was even permitted a vote on that one) and that we needed to get hip to that funky drummer back beat. We quite enjoyed doing it but when Dom left to move to London, Chris and I formed a new line-up and dropped the ‘dance element’ like a sack of sh!t.
++ On Last.fm there are many unreleased songs, many of them great jangle tracks. Will you ever release them? A retrospective album is due!
I don’t think the world is clamouring for a Candy Darlings retrospective. No-one’s ever shown any interest in doing one and, as you point out, most of the recordings (other than the single) are really low-fi as they were recorded on cassette.
++ How do you see the indiepop scene today? Any big differences to the one of the late 80s? Any similarities?
To be honest, I don’t think any of us are really aware of that scene these days. I go to the very occasional gig when I’m up in London but we’ve all got families these days and that’s where all the time goes. So I can’t really comment on any differences but I do know that the scene in the late eighties was loads of fun and that the 3 of us had such a laugh being in the Candy Darlings. That’s really my over-riding memory of being in the band – p!ssing myself laughing with my two best mates.