Interviewed by Jack Barron.
(Talking about the song 'When I Need You)
I take it that it's about impotence?
"Yeah,"confirms Steve Drewett. Even the tinted granny glasses can't hide the gleeful twinkle in the singers eyes. "The thing about it is it's therapeutic smut, really."
"Laydeez and gentlemen,
will you please take your seats for Dick Whittington now, the show starts in five minutes", wheezes a voice from the Tannoy of Harlow's Playhouse pub.
Outside the conurbation's cultural Mecca it's snowing. There is no queue at the door. Inside Dick is wilting. "Now any bugger can see the humour in that",contends Colin Dredd. The lanky bass player is well past his third pint and animated. "When we recorded our new 12inch the engineer, and the guy who was supposed to be putting up the money for it, both looked at each other when they heard the words for the first time and went `Ah, So the Newtown Neurotics can do something funny'."
I take it that it's about impotence?
"Yeah," confirms Steve Drewett. Even the tinted granny glasses can't hide the gleeful twinkle in the singers eyes. "The thing about it is it's therapeutic smut, really."
Every thing changes/ nothing changes. 14 months on from our initial interview, we're sitting in virtually the same seats although drummer boy Simon is absent due to being on holiday on a canal in Birmingham, or something equally exotic. And the band are still composing nervously great songs.
We are, of-course , talking about one of these. It isn't called `Dick Whittington', though there are possibilities in such a title, rather the tune is known as 'When I Need You' and can be located on group's current 12inch single which I play as a rule.
Here's an example of the lyrics:
`You were throbbing at my dirty thoughts/
and you know at times this evening you made it hard for me to walk '
The personal politics of a cock up, or rather literally the inverse, are being aired for the first occasion I can recall in popular music.
"It's very anti-macho", interjects Colin, as the pair begin to erect an argument. "If you've been through it and come to terms with it then that's fine, no problems adds Steve. But there..."
"Are you saying you've been through that experience?" I interrupt, obviously.
The singer nods his head vigorously. Yeah, yeah! " " Haven't you ever been with somebody, gone to bed with them and been unable, to, get it on? " demands Colin. Where you just cannot do it? Everybody goes through that."
A silence unfolds as I rack my brain.
Steve soon jumps in and plugs the gap. "It's not permanent impotence" he explains. "Thing is, some people swagger through their sexual experiences and come out on top. But there are some people who find it difficult to have anything to do with the opposite sex.
Then one day, although they've had no sexual experience, they find themselves in a situation which has possibilities. And because sex is such an important part of society, procreation and all that, they feel an enormous pressure.
'On top' 'enormous pressure', I only noticed these candidates for innuendo after the interview. We didn't laugh at them at the time, for 'When I Need You' might be a comic aside in the Newtown Newtown arsenal of agit-pop but it has a characteristically serious point.
"So anyway, he finds a girl at a party who is into doing it," continues Steve. "But he's a bit scared and drinks to pluck up courage. They make all the right moves at the right time and he's there - in the bedroom with the girl.
The hubbub of the party is passing the door every five seconds, people are popping their heads in. All this is in the back of his mind. "Yet he has got the girl and she is willing but he's worried he can't fulfil her needs, though she couldn't care less because she's drunk.
But he doesn't know that and is worried about his abilities. To top it all he might have a really good looking girl there, the first indication that despite his innocence and shyness he's attractive. And she's lying there, he drops his trousers and... peeeeuuuu "
Steve's forefinger, with which he's been conducting his monologue, collapses symbolically and he whistles through his teeth.
"What an affect that would have on the psychology of that person for a long time. Thing is, people like Chris Moore - when asked why there are no love or sexual based lyrics in the 'Redskins' songs - will turn around and say ' what do people care who I'm fucking or who I'm with ?'
But that's not true at all. If you can relate an embarrassing experience to someone who has had a similar one, someone who might have thought he was a freak of nature, then it helps that person to get over that sort of thing. I don't believe in Chris Moore's line on sexuality and love in songs, people aren't that one-dimensional or hard.
Sexual politics might be ninth on his list, but I'm sure there's room for a bit of each."
But things have changed in the Neurotics camp, both in terms of attitudes towards the music business and ideology. Only the songs remain the same on an abstract level of fine - if sometimes melodically overcomplicated - energising pop.
These shifts in perception are easily explainable. The last occasion we talked the band's debut album 'Beggars can be Choosers' had just been released. Most of the reviews were very positive and it seemed like they would be the musical representatives of the new left who would make a bigger impact. Drawing on the best harmonic strands of the Buzzcocks,Jam, Clash, and Ramones punk idioms, and threading these into the idiosyncratic songwriting needle, it seemed they couldn't fail commercially, but they did.
Their then label, Razor, only wanted the Neurotics to do albums because there was no profit in indie singles.
The group desperately wanted to put out a 45 and most of 1984 was spent arguing the toss. In the end the band re-activated their No Wonder imprint and released 'Suzi is a Heartbreaker' themselves.
Meanwhile very worthy if less established outfits were being signed to majors. Decca/London snapped up the Redskins and EMI seduced New Model Army. Add to that the latest wave of Political surrealists who were also making a splash, The Three Johns, The Membranes, Five Go Down To The Sea, and so on, and it's easy to see how the Neurotics might have become cynical.
They haven't. True they are a mite wiser to the musical and social cons surrounding us, but if anything the band exude even more enthusiasm than before. Paradoxically the 'Miners strike' is at the root of this. While the group's vinyl production may be at an all time low in terms of quantity - aside from 'Suzi' one of the only record projects they have been involved with was Steve's song 'The Livingstone Rap' by the Law Lords International - they have been playing more than ever.
The strike is quickly sorting out the pop rebels with a pose, like the Clash, from pop rebels with a cause, the Redskins being one. And since the Neurotics have performed many benefits for the Miners. In the process their crafty craft has gained an ever widening audience. Even the sloth hacks of the music press are re-awakening to the Neurotics quality.
A recent NUM benefit at the LSE saw the band gather garlands across the board.
High, middle, low, and even brows that meet in the middle, critics scribbled their praise. Is that rare? I mulled this thought over, grimaced as my money disappeared into the barmaid's hand, gathered up the pints and returned to the table by the window.
"It was a deliberate move," agrees Steve about ' Suzi...' the title track of their present single. "The point is, having felt the constraints of 'Punk Band' tightening around us we felt we needed to confound.
When we first started playing we didn't care. People were categorising us as punk, and in a way we wouldn't deny that in terms of 1977. It was rock and roll with a tune. But as punk got a dirty name for being mindless, tuneless and unoriginal, which it certainly has become, we could feel the suffocating sensation of people classing us like that and it just wasn't true.
"So we thought, well in our interviews we're always talking about politics, and we've done a lot of political records to the point where some people think we're an Anarchist band. We get people from Iceland writing to us asking what we think about anarchy. Questions like that are not only boring but our views are well known.
Anarchy is a load of old tripe".
Several years ago the Newtown Neurotics released a single called 'Kick Out The Tories' which long presaged 'Red Strikes The Blues'. It's more relevant than ever and will gain increasing import as our nation-in-a-state is more divided as the miners' dispute becomes the focal knife that cuts the cake.
The latter had a great affect on the bands beliefs. "1984 is going to go down in people's memories like 1926, not for being the year of Orwell but for the Miners' strike", predicts Colin.
"You're right," demurs Steve. It's like a blister festering under the foot of society. The blister is poverty, and the Miners' strike is not because Arthur Scargill is a maniac.
The strike is symbolic of a lot of things. It's people standing up, saying we're not going to take this poverty, Fascism and erosion of our civil liberties lying down. "Kinnock is not going to help. The more I hear of him the more sick he makes me. I've heard him on the radio speaking about several subjects recently, and he sounds just like whispering Bob Harris, not someone who's supposed to be the leader of the Labour movement out to help Working people.
There was a time I might have thought a less extreme approach might be right, but these are extreme times. Scargill and Livingstone are more the future of the Left if it's to survive than Kinnock."
"I find that when I read the doctrines of the Socialist Workers Party. I agree with it more than the Labour Party now," says Colin. "But unfortunately it's the Labour Party who've got the mandate amongst the left in this country. But lets be honest about it, Labour are so f***ing scared of losing votes they'll water down any Socialist policy.
And the point is it isn't working and is also totally dishonest." What does this have to do with the Neurotics and pop music? Everything and more.
The Harlow band's live act is a series of serrated political sonic statements. Kinnock has been interviewed in 'Sounds', and it's important to remember he has appeared in Tracy Ullman videos. He want your vote and doesn't even have a decent taste in rock and roll, except reactionary! Never trust a pop star, especially if he's a politician.
Discussion turns to the subject of 'Livingstone Rap'. "It's the curse of Attila," sighs Steve of his housemate ranter. "like Billy Bragg. He has the ability to promote himself continuously no matter what he does. In that sense 'Livingstone Rap' came across as purely an Attila thing. Basically he was responsible for its realisation on vinyl, but I wrote the basic song ages ago."
"We performed it live after we got rid of Tikka (?)( Tiggy actually, the first drummer - Webmaster) the drum machine," continues Colin.
Steve: "When we had a change of line up in the band years ago we went out sometimes as a twosome called The Ken Livingstone Band."
I didn't know about this....
Steve: "yeah, it was like the 80's version of Simon and Garfunkel. We had six or seven numbers, one of which was ' The Livingstone Rap. It was as far away from funk as you can imagine. I wrote it at the time of him being called 'the most odious man in Britain'.
"He's the guy with the funky eye/He's loved by everyone', went the lyrics, which clearly he wasn't as far as the Sun were concerned.
"It was meant to be a humorous thing. AS the GLC elections got closer, Attila said we should record it. The problem was it had to be done funky, and if we did it'd be like a punk band trying to play funk, like early Gang Of Four. It wouldn't work."
Attila, in best Stockbroker traditions, prevailed. People from Latin Quarter - " A terrific new band," according to Steve - were drafted in to help among others. And it's release by Cherry Red was documented by BBC 2's Newsnight programme, on the evening of the election.
Steve: "We all dressed up in Judges' gear for the program, the full works, with Attila squeaking his plastic mice and things.
Unfortunately apart from that, it got no publicity. The time for praising the in die scene carte blanche has disappeared. The indies help but too often they sink good re cords..."
"The Major record companies are now in control again," vexes Steve, " and that's what Top Of The Pops responds to, nothing else. For example the Redskins' 'Lean On Me' was brilliant, but it was in an in die label and because of that virtually none of the national radio deejays have it the time of day.
Now those very same deejays are playing 'Keep On Keeping' On'. Why? The fact that the Redskins are signed to a major must have a lot to do with that because it is nowhere near the tune that lean on me was."
This sound theory is not without it's loopholes, obviously. The success of Smiley culture is a prime exception to the rule. But it's still basically correct, the industry too often doesn't bother listening to in die music, if there is such a thing.
It wants a complete, saleable package it can build an image with ... not necessarily exciting performers.
And part and parcel of this is the way pop interviews have degenerated into boring lectures.
To all this humbug I pose the following problem. If Howling Wolf were alive today, could he theorise on the epistemological crisis every branch of academia is undergoing at the moment? Could he hell. But he could tell us about being a back door man and getting more chicken than you've ever seen.
With 'When I Need You', the Neurotics, in typically nervous fashion, have lyrically disentangled the sort of problem you might be faced with when you meet a chicken in your bed. It's as valid as anything else and the music surges like blood through your veins.
The two most emotional moments of 1984 for the band were watching the wives of striking miners sing the 'Red Flag - "are they communists?" - and attending the funeral of one of their most loyal admirers,Sean McNamee, to whom the single is dedicated.
They hope there will be a queue at their door in 1985, but aren't being too neurotic about it, unlike Dick.
In solidarity - Colin Dredd, Steve Drewett, Simon Lomond
and the Thatcher Monster drops in to crush the strike
Return to non-frames menu