Having recently released its first long-player of new material in nigh-on ten years - 'Death In Soho' on Overground Records - and a new 7" on American label Dr. Strange, original UK 1977 Punk band, 999, seem to be experiencing something of a renaissance. This short interview, kindly donated to Scanner by John Esplen of Overground Records, was conducted in October 2007 with original band member, Nick Cash.
..There aren’t too many of the old Punk bands who are still touring after over 30 years without giving it a break at least once in that time. What do you put the bands longevity down to?
..Nick) No, there are not too many of the old Punk bands still going after 30 years and not many of those still left still have as much of the original line up still left or surviving as 999 - Nick Cash, Guy Days and Pablo Labritain have been there as 999 since day one. Arturo Bassick joined some 17 years or so ago and has been a great boost to the band. We knew him from the days when both the bands were managed by Albion. The name of his band at that time was PINPOINT and we had toured England together. He has worked with various outfits since including THE BLUBBERY HELLBELLIES and of course THE LURKERS amongst others. He had a lot of contacts from those days and masses of experience which combined with ours helped us to get more shows and tours of near and far flung countries.
..It’s now been just about 10 years since the release of the band’s last studio album, 'Takeover', and finally the wait is over with the new album 'Death In Soho'. Why has it been so long?
..Nick) Yes it has been a long time between 'Takeover' and 'Death In Soho'. We have had a lot of other CDs and things released since 'Takeover' as most of the "industry" in the Punk/ New Wave thing wants to put out the artists' back catalogues which is a safe bet as it sells. However, people want to see 999 and promoters want to put the band on and we still go down very well live and now with 'Death In Soho' - our new CD - there is no stopping us. So many people asked us, “when's the new album coming out?”, that we decided we really must record one plus friends of the band really helped us to get one done. I agree it was time. 'Takeover', our previous album, was very hard to get hold of and the record company that put it out did nothing at all to help. I spoke to Overground and they said they’d be delighted to do the album and he's been a great help, so power to Overground.
..The period 1978 -1980 was a pivotal time in the career of 999, from the release of 'Homicide' onwards. A planned appearance on Top of the Pops had to be cancelled because of the electricians strike, and then some time later the horrific injury to Pablo. Have you got any regrets?
..Nick) No, I've no regrets; most of it was fate. The only thing that I was bothered about was when we did a show for a charity the organizers accused us of nicking the money and it went out in the press - we hadn't and they apologised.
..You have always been known as one of the hardest working bands, with tours every year, all over the country as well as dozens of counties overseas. This sort of schedule must be even tougher these days with the need to hold down regular jobs. How do you manage to fit it all in?
..Nick) It's a hectic life for us and we've just come back from two successful shows abroad one in the Czech Republic and one in Bratislava, Slovakia where we played for the first time. It was great and much to our surprise so many people knew the words and were singing along. Even after all those years together as a band, it's still great to do a good show and that keeps us going no matter what.
..Having been at the forefront of the revolution in independent music with the release of 'I’m Alive' on Labritain records way back in the mid 70s, what are your views on the recent growth of new artists and bands coming to prominence through the internet.
..Nick) 999 have been on everything from 78RPM vinyl 7”, vinyl singles and albums every colour of vinyl, clear vinyl, VHS, CD, DVD, DAT and now the internet - next? Anyway our stuff is also available on the internet it's the medium of the moment and obviously bands will come to prominence using it - good luck to us all!
..I did read somewhere that Joey Ramone’s favourite song was 'Obsessed', and it is safe to say that Punk Rock in general and 999 in particular have been very influential on a lot of bands over the past 30 years. Who were the early influences on 999’s music, and are there any newer bands that make you want to keep going?
..Nick) That was nice of Joey to make that comment about 'Obsessed' and obviously from 999 it's a huge nod in the direction of Ennio Morriconni. People are always telling us that we've influenced them, which is nice. As for earlier influences, speaking for myself obviously the pub rock thing was a big influence as I was in KILBURN AND THE HIGHROADS. Others include The Kinks, Eddie Cochran, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Picket, Mutabaruka, Gregory Isaacs, THE STOOGES, NEW YORK DOLLS, Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs and Ennio Morricone.
..It has been well known for years that 999 is a band that has always put its fans very high on their list of priorities, going as far as to write and dedicate songs to their fans, not to mention using a member of the Crew to fill in when Pablo was hurt. Is touring and playing live still as important to the band these days?
..Nick) 999 has always valued their supporters very highly. In fact, we've always said that the audience is just as important as the band. If you go to one of our shows you'll know what I mean. It's an atmosphere that the band and audience make together and a strong feeling of energy and excitement. We recognised this at an early stage in our career and wrote a song about the Southall Crew, our first band of supporters to appear on the scene, the song is called ‘Feelin' Alright With The Crew’. Ed Case, one of the Southall Crew, filled in for Pablo when he was injured on the road. Ed was only 17 at the time and driving a van for a living. We did a gig in Berlin and Pablo couldn't drum because of his injury; Ed was a drummer and knew all of the songs because he was in the Southall Crew. He played them all perfectly at the show in Berlin and then toured with us until Pablo recovered. Ed went on to play with Hazel O'Connor and then had a long run as the drummer in ‘Buddy’ the stage musical which ran for years at the Victoria Theatre. He never went back to driving a van for a living.
.. The band has been playing together for a long time now, and this shows on the latest album as well as on 'Takeover'. Over the years I’ve heard a number of comments about some of the earlier albums, such as the first album was put together quickly and had a real live feel, and 'Separates' might have been overproduced. When you look at the total of 999’s output over the years how do think the last few albums stand up to the massively high standards set by the first 4 albums?
..Nick) Pablo said to me when we were putting the finishing touches to 'Death In Soho' that he thought it was the best album we'd done since 'Separates'. Guy said later that if we had 'Death In Soho' earlier on he thought it would have done really well. I say it's the only album that we have all unanimously agreed was good, which is a positive thing for a band that has been together for 30 years.