Interviewed by Stuart Schrader
What so you think of the big punk festivals in which a ton of old bands have reformed?
STEVE: Yawn! Yesterday's food never tastes as good.
This interview was conducted through the mail with Steve Drewett, lead vocalist/guitarist/song-writer for the NEWTOWN NEUROTICS. Most people know their track "Kick Out The Tories" which appeared on Punk and Disorderly3. That track kicks ass. Their original vinyl goes for a lot of money, but luckily both their first LP and a collection of singles have been re-released by Dojo Ltd. and Anagram respectively. Both have some amazing political yet melodic tunes. I was attracted to the sincerity of the lyrics an their relevance 15 + years on so I decided to interview a guy whom I thought would have a lot to say. I was not disappointed. Enjoy.
DTP: Who are/have been the band members? Ages? What do/did each of them do for a living outside the band?
STEVE: The line-up was originally Steve Drewett - Guitar /Vocals, Colin Masters - Bass/backing vocals and Tig Barber - Drums. The only personnel change was when we replaced Tig with Simon O'Brien on Drums who was with us up until the band split. It may look like we had more people in the group because Colin changed his name to Colin Dredd to keep the department of Social Security off his back. Simon changed his name to Simon Lomond because his parents had split up and he wanted to use his mother's original surname. I can't remember how old we were exactly when we first started but I was about twenty five, Colin nineteen and Simon a fresh faced thing at sixteen.
Apart from me, unemployment was the occupation of the band throughout our career. I funded the band myself being a gardener with Harlow Council, my vacations were spent touring with the band, so no rest there. Colin finally got to work with children on a playbus in the final years of the band but is currently unemployed again. Simon works buying and selling clothes in the fashion industry and I am now a Webmaster for Harlow Council (check out www.harlow.gov.uk).
DTP: Is the name "Newtown Neurotics" or just "Neurotics? When and why did the name change? What is the origin of the name?
STEVE: The band's name came about because the subject matter of the day in the late Seventies/early Eighties was alienation, so living in a soulless "Newtown" seemed to me to be the perfect place for a punk band to rise from. Newtown Neurotics was cause/effect. Later when the subject matter of the songs was about wider issues and not about living in a Newtown, we thought our name no longer reflected the nature of the band. The growing maturity of the music, which eventually included keyboards, horn sections (and penny whistles at one point)etc. was less of the raw thrash and more melody based so we wanted to have a shorter name to reflect the changes in the band. Hence the "Neurotics".
DTP: Are the Neurotics still a functioning band? Did you ever break up? Any more recordings?
STEVE: The band split in 1988 and all recording stopped then. I went on to form a band called "The Indestructible Beat" but by this time I was beginning to yearn to do something different with my life. After three years with the "Indiebeats" the band dissolved and I could not be bothered with music anymore. I then discovered a new form of communicating , the Internet, and I moved in that direction.
DTP: How did you get into punk? A lot of your songs are about youthful rebellion and angst, dealing with parents and girlfriends, are these topics still relevant to you twenty or so years on? How important is the idea of youthful rebellion or cynicism to punk?
STEVE: I must say that in 1977, it must have been the most boring time of my life. I can't single out exactly what caused my life to be that dull but maybe it was a really uninspiring time in England in the late Seventies. All I know is I have never been that bored again. That's what made me start a band, punk put spunk back into my life and promised the possibility of change socially and politically. Oh, and it was easier to get girls too if you were in a group. Actually, I always dreamed of bringing the Tory Government down and getting the girl, I got the girls alright, so 50% ain 't bad.
It had been a very frustrating time in my life so there was plenty of material for songs and as we released more and more records the self actualisation I felt has carried on into later life. Looking back, many of the people involved in punk went on in some way to work in creative areas and as far as music today, it would be completely different without it. Politically, it carried on a tradition of grass-roots struggles still happening as we speak as successive generations of young people fight against what they see as their parents' generation's follies. And to those people who don't do anything it shames them onto the realisation of just how shallow they have become.
DTP: In the beginning, you were essentially a non-political band, but soon, the song topics changed to an overtly political nature, what precipitated this change? Is punk inherently political for you? What is your view of the so called "apolitical" movement in punk/Oi?
STEVE: Like I said earlier, originally the band was a reaction to the alienation of living in a boring, soulless Newtown and many of the early songs reflect this. However, soon after the band came into existence Margaret Thatcher came to power in England and heralded, the beginning of massive change in this country. This wasn't benevolent change, to free people from the yoke of oppression, this was vicious change to reduce the amount of people who had work so that labour was cheap. The fear of unemployment was so strong that people would work for next to nothing. Care and compassion went out the window and in came a culture that celebrated profit and greed and to hell with the old, the poor and the sick. I didn't think it was worth being in a band if I didn't tackle those issues. I love a lot of music that isn't political and I did then. What I really hated was punk bands who thought they could scream about being anti-social and hating the establishment but would do nothing to bring about change. The "politics is boring, it never changes anything" and "politics has no place in music" brigade made me sick. And the anarchy crew formed a retirement club from the real world who could be self-righteous but never have to prove their theories, meanwhile the country went down the drain. Now as was then, if you don't get involved in politics in some way or form, you are voting for the status quo.
DTP: What inspired your songs? Personal experience?
STEVE: Our songs were based on our personal experiences to a very large degree but not entirely. Like a film based on true life experiences, the songs sometimes had some little fictitious additions to them. For example, I wrote "Living With Unemployment" as though I was. I was employed throughout the Neurotics career but both Colin and Simon were not, so I wrote about their lives. Here's some background to a couple of other songs.
Living With UnemploymentThis was originally Solitary Confinement, the Members song but I changed it to play a Kick Out the Tories march. It's ended up becoming a symbol of the Eighties and beyond as vast amounts of people struggle to come to terms with their self esteem in the face of permanent unemployment while an all-powerful media says if you haven't got money and if you can't buy this then you're nothing. It became an NME single of the week and I'm very proud of our version but I fear it will be valid for a very long time yet.
When The Oil Runs OutInspired by a Robert Redford film called, I think, 'The Eagle Has Landed'. This film explained how the CIA carried out war games set in the Middle East so that if the oil supply to the USA were ever under threat there would be plans available for an invasion. This was long before the Gulf war but I wanted to focus people' attention on how much we rely on this source of power and what some nations would consider doing to secure it. Jello Biafra said it was his favourite Neurotics' song and that one day he might cover it, he hasn't, so far, shame!
Licensing HoursAaahhh the good old days, this may be a little puzzling to people who are not resident in the United Kingdom but the times that we could drink alcohol in a bar was (and to a large degree still is) severely restricted. It always seemed completely crazy to me that at some ridiculously early time in the evening, after everyone had spent a couple of hours drinking furiously with one eye on the clock, that someone would come 'round and needle you continuously to finish your drink. They would even snatch it off you or call the Police if you didn't. With young and sometimes angry young men (like myself at the time) struggling to drink their fill in the allotted time, there was bound to be trouble all over this Septic Isle on a Saturday night.
DTP: What bands did you play with in the old days? (Just as an anecdote, a friend of mine who was a young punk and is now and old punk said that you guys influenced him as much as or more than Crass since you played out a lot more often and were more accessible lyrically.) Did you play with Oi! Bands? Did you have problems with so called anti-Communist skinheads or skinhead violence in general? What are your views on the use of violence as a means to an end.
STEVE:Here is a list of bands that we have played with that comes to mind at the moment. It is by no means comprehensive. MDC, BILLY BRAGG, THE DAMNED, PETER AND THE TEST TUBE BABIES, THE REDSKINS, EDDIE AND THE HOTRODS, TEN POLE TUDOR, CRASS.
No we didn't play with Oi!, we had nothing in common with them and only Crass-type band once or twice.
We never really had any trouble with Nazi bands although we were on the fascists' hit list for years and I was forever getting threatening messages on my answerphone. Violence as a means to an end? Too big an issue to go into properly but I'd avoid violence in most circumstances but there does come a time when there is no choice. The hardest thing to do is to disengage from a cycle of violence and say enough is enough, no more violence now.
DTP: With songs about machismo and sexual standards "No Respect", did you find that people accepted you or alienated you for the lyrics? What was it like to be the leader in somewhat as yet uncharted territory singing about sexual double standards?
STEVE: When "Beggars Can Be Choosers" LP was released with the track "No Respect" on it, we got slagged off a bit in the review of the album for being trendy lefty (whatever that meant!!!). But other than that, it was really positive, all types of men would go crazy to it when we played it live and it was definitely a big favourite of female fans. One of the side effects of this track, and something I was really proud of, was our audience had a high proportion of female fans wherever we played. In those days, a high percentage of punk bands and heavy metal bands only had male followers. This ,we thought was very sad for a band and it seemed that girls just didn't seem comfortable going out to see these groups.
DTP: What was it, and how did the Miners Strike affect you? Was it really a huge deal in Britain?
STEVE: What can I say in the space of this interview to describe the '80's Miners Strike in Britain, the event that "The Mind of Valerie" was inspired by? Oh...for those of you who don't know about it, check it out, you wouldn't believe what happened and what has happened since because it was lost. But we are all suffering in Britain due to its repercussions and democracy for many of us became a sham that we are allowed to have while it suits the establishment. Touchy subject matter? I think so, no films are ever made about the strike, ever noticed that? Strange. It's definitely a story an English Oliver Stone would tackle, whole villages cut off by Police and their inhabitants beaten up by them, dragged into the street and beaten. Innocent people put in goal after mock trials, surveillance, and restricted movement around the country, MI5 involvement, and spies. The government decided to take on the Miners as they thought if we can break them we can destroy the British Trade Union movement. But they nearly plunged the country into revolution as the Miners and their supporters (including us) refused to give in.
After a year with no coal coming out of the ground and fuel reserves getting very low and Police costs running into billions, the full weight of the capitalist state was brought to bear on ordinary people. They finally bought off brother against brother, sister against sister, father against son and daughter and the miners eventually had to go back to work. The working class has suffered ever since. The Liverpool Dockers strike that's still going now (at the time of the interview) is the living example of how workers are treated these days because the Tories crushed the Miners in the 80's and shows how only the very brave go on strike now because they are afraid. We are all becoming exploited by the flexible labour market, if we can even get a job at all.
DTP: What was John Lennon's influence on you? How did it differ from/replicate the Ramones influence?
STEVE: John Lennon and the Beatles inspired me to play music, made me think for the first time and wrote the soundtrack for the love affairs of my life. Not bad for a pop group eh? I am the person I am today because of John Lennon, which then had a lot of Johnny Rotten laid over the top, the Neurotics career over that, then the Miner Strike and finally the Internet and that's what makes me what I am today. The Ramones were different, they were just great fun! And they wrote the easiest songs to play when you knew only three chords.
DTP: What so you think of the big punk festivals in which a ton of old bands have reformed?
STEVE: Yawn! Yesterday's food never tastes as good.
DTP: Where have you toured? What were some of the best touring experiences?
STEVE: Communist East Germany, Albania, North Korea, and Cuba. You think I'm joking, I'm not, only some were done solo. I'll be here for eternity if I tried to explain my tour experiences in those places (a huge, in depth report of our tour of East Germany with Billy Bragg can be found on this website just click on this link!) We also played a hell of a lot all over Europe, Germany, France, Italy etc. and of-course good old England.
DTP: Any further comments on the future of the Neurotics, or punk rock in general.
STEVE: There is no future of the Neurotics as we are no longer around and I'm into new things now. But they still live on here in Cyberspace as you can see. I just hope people continue to enjoy our work,(work which incidentally I am still incredibly proud of), through the present catalogue and any re-issues.
Steve Drewett Lead singer, songwriter and guitarist