Interview: Duncan Reid - Duncan Reid And The Big Heads
..First off, can you tell us what your earliest musical memory is? Given you were in one of the formative Punk bands of the late 70s, what were you listening to before Punk hit? And did your musical tastes change after Punk?
..Duncan) My earliest musical memory is of THE BEATLES, ROLLING STONES, HOLLIES, DAVE CLARK FIVE etc on TV. The whole family would be watching and everyone was so proud of these bands - although my granny didn’t like those dirty ROLLING STONES! They made this little island we live on seem like the centre of the world. Instead of copying American music, which is what came before, we were now the ones everyone looked to. That music was everywhere when I grew up.
I liked a lot of nonsense as a teenager but also good stuff like DAVID BOWIE, T REX, ROXY MUSIC, SLADE and the other glam stuff. Then, like everyone around the tiny, formative Punk scene in London I heard the RAMONES. That was that. All change and let’s move off down this new track.
..Give us a bit of background about DUNCAN REID AND THE BIG HEADS. The band obviously formed in the wake of your 2012 debut solo album. How did you all meet? Has there been any significant line-up changes?
..Duncan) It was the usual friends and friends of friends and the line up today is completely different to the one at the beginning. It’s one of the great things about London. There is quite a tight knit rock scene and plenty of good musicians. I always wanted a mix of men and women in the band though and that is harder. Boy, I’m lucky with the band now. They are so good!
..The band recently released the third album, the excellent ‘Bombs Away’. How do you think this is a progression from the previous two albums? Was the writing for this album approached any differently from the previous two?
..Duncan) It is different but I can’t tell you why. It benefits from the playing which is great. On the first album I played nearly everything myself out of necessity because I had no band! The writing approach was the same. I get a bit of a tune, I put that together with other bits of tunes and then I write the words, normally about my life or things I see.
..I note you’ve released all the albums on your own label. Did you try and find a label to release the albums - especially given the fact that are an ‘ex-member’ of THE BOYS? I know Damaged Goods Records released the most recent 7" by the band - they seem like an ideal label given THE BIG HEADS’ sound.
..Duncan) There are almost no labels which will now pay for you to make a record of this type of music. Unless someone is willing to put a lot of money and know-how behind promotion there is no point in having a record label. Do it yourself. It’s easy although time consuming. You need to make contact with the hundreds of radio stations and blogs out there who like the kind of music you do. Just don’t be a dick and persevere.
Being an ex-member of THE BOYS counts for a little bit but not a lot when you are making new music. You’ve got to stand on your own feet and be good in your own right.
This Pledge Music thing seems a good idea for independent musicians. I think I’ll give that a go next time.
..If we can just talk about a few of the tracks on the album, starting with ‘Wouldn’t Change A Single Thing’ - which is about the very early days of THE BOYS. Is this your first song about that era? Does THE BOYS sound still influence how you write? You mention quitting University to play Punk Rock and your dad being not too impressed. Did his attitude changed over the succeeding years - especially when you became a recording artist and a member of the first Punk band to score a five-album deal?
..Duncan) There are references to that era in a few of my songs. Check out ‘Rolling On’ and ‘77’ - the clue’s in the title! I often say I went to the best music school in the world. I learned so much from Casino Steel, Matt Dangerfield and John Plain. It’s funny how I couldn’t write until I was older though.
But of course I’m influenced by THE BOYS. We were the godfathers of Pop-Punk after all, and that’s what I play and write.
Yes, my dad is very proud of me now. Things worked out so he knows I made the right decision.
..And what about ‘C’mon Josephine’? I note Andrew Matheson, he of BOYS pre-cursor, the HOLLYWOOD BRATS, co-wrote that. How different is the recorded version to your original? How did Andrew get involved in the re-write?
..Duncan) We did it all by email. I sent Andrew my demo with terrible lyrics. Andrew sent back new lyrics with suggestions as to how to cut the song down and add a key change. Everything he suggested was spot on.
..Given you were in THE BOYS - a band that released many underrated Punk era classics - do you ever get jaded with the comparisons between THE BIG HEADS and THE BOYS? Do you compare tracks and performances by THE BIG HEADS with THE BOYS - even on a minor scale?
..Duncan) Not really. I don’t really think much about THE BOYS anymore strangely enough. It’s not deliberate. It’s just that there’s so much to think about for the present and future. It’s almost a shock when someone mentions them. I meet a few people who want to talk about them a lot and I know I must tag along but most people now want to talk about Sophie - the guitarist in THE BIG HEADS! I think some people believe we should be Sophie Powers and the Big Heads! Haha!! Good idea I think!
There is a very fine line to be trodden. Especially when THE BIG HEADS play a new place, we get asked "Will you play some BOYS songs?" And, of course, we are delighted to. Where we’ve played more it’s quite common to hear "You don’t need to play BOYS songs. We want to hear more of your stuff". But we like playing BOYS stuff. They are such good live songs. People who see us live say THE BIG HEADS and BOYS songs blend together seamlessly.
..What are the most immediate differences between playing in THE BIG HEADS today, and playing with THE BOYS back in the late ‘70s/ early 80s?
..Duncan) In the 70s everything was new and the audiences were young. Now there is a large nostalgia aspect to the scene because the most powerful music in peoples lives is what they listened to as teenagers. Listen: THE BOYS were great live and had great songs. But as a live band THE BIG HEADS are much better. We have a three man/woman attack which is very visual and we are much tighter. It’s much more fun for me now. We will often just keep playing because we have so much fun on stage. That didn’t happen in THE BOYS.
..You state on the sleeve of the 2012 released debut album that it was 35 years in the making! What did you do during the split up of THE BOYS and the release of that solo album? I heard about a band you were doing, possibly even during THE BOYS, called HOLLYWOOD KILLERS - tell us a bit about that?
..Duncan) I actually started making the first album immediately after leaving THE BOYS in 2011, but THE BOYS had a 17 year break between about ‘82 and ‘99. In that time I went to university and had jobs working for Andrew Lloyd Webber and running a football club (Nottingham Forest). HOLLYWOOD KILLERS were great; we had some neat songs. A very poppy DOORS-like band.
..Going back - how did you get involved with Matt Dangerfield and the rest of THE BOYS? It’s well known he was in LONDON SS - what were you doing musically pre-BOYS?
..Duncan) I did nothing musically pre THE BOYS. I was at school! I think everyone was in the LONDON SS for half an hour. They didn’t really exist.
..What were your first impressions of the band? I recall some kinda story about you and Jack working in a t-shirt factory - and Honest John was you boss? If I have that story correct, he also gave you a really hard time??
..Duncan) That’s where I first met John and he took Jack and I over to meet Cas and Matt at Matt’s place where there was a little 4-track studio where most of the musicians who would later form punk bands met to jam. Mick Jones, Steve Jones, Billy Idol, Tony James, Brian Jones ...... loads passed through.
My first impression was that they were older and more confident than me. I was newly arrived in London from a small town. I just kept quiet!
..Given you were relatively the ‘new boy’ - how did you take to the role of vocalist? Was that the intention when you joined the band, something you aspired to or something that occurred because you were just most suited?
..Duncan) There was a tortuous process by which Matt and I ended up as joint lead singers. THE BOYS auditioned many people for the lead singer role. All were passed on for reasons like they were too tall or something. Then the idea was that Matt should be singer, then that I should be singer. Eventually we decided to have a Lennon/MacCartney approach. It worked especially with Casino Steel’s incredible harmonies.
..Given the benefits of hindsight, did you realise at the time that you were part of this Punk movement that would still be being written about, eulogised and analysed some 40+ years later? Did you think back then that you’d still be playing in bands 40+ years later?
..Duncan) I hoped I would still be playing years later but I didn’t think about it much. I was way too busy wondering where I’d get the money for my next beer and chasing girls.
..What are your strongest memories - both good and bad - of being in THE BOYS?
..Duncan) So many good ones! Playing with THE RAMONES live on stage, drinking with John Cale.......many
..And the same question about THE BOYS’ yuletide alter-ego THE YOBS.
..Duncan) We recorded that album in 12 hours. What a breeze then down the pub. Very typical of THE BOYS! We laughed a lot as well.
..What are your strongest memories - both good and bad - of playing London’s The Roxy? Were any of THE BOYS ever confronted with physical violence like some of their Punk peers?
..Duncan) Not at the Roxy. I was once hit with a bottle over the head after a show with THE JAM in Battersea. The blood was spectacular even though it didn’t hurt! I remember Led Zeppelin coming to see us at The Roxy, Jon Bonham trying to get on the drums and Jack Black telling him to get lost. We didn’t recognise him.
The worst thing about the Roxy was the sodding dub Reggae on the sound system all the time.
..You were involved in THE BOYS initial reunion. Was that mainly inspired by DIE TOTEN HOSEN recording ‘Brickfield Nights’? I think you were part of the band when they toured Japan too - how was that?
..Duncan) It was Japan which got THE BOYS back together. Both Matt Dangerfield and I were anti a reunion but we both wanted to go to Japan so said yes. It went well so we carried on, including going back to Japan three times. The reunion of THE BOYS was an unqualified success. We played some great shows for about 12 years all over the world. We were once more a great live band with great songs.
..Why didn’t you stick with playing with THE BOYS? I see they have a new(ish) album out. Was it just because of THE BIG HEADS, or something more? You still in touch with Matt, Casino, Honest John and Jack?
..Duncan) I had no intention of leaving THE BOYS, but there was a huge fight between me and Matt Dangerfield which had been coming for years. It blew up in particular at the end of a Spanish tour and that was that. All very silly really but life is too short to be having fisticuffs. At the time it was very sad and took me years to get over the loss of what was a vital part of my life. But thank goodness it occurred or none of the great stuff which came after with THE BIG HEADS would have happened.
I still see the guys from time to time. Cas and John have played live with THE BIG HEADS.
..Tell us a bit about Duncan Reid himself. How does the Duncan Reid of 2018 differ from that of 1977 and again from the man in 1997?
..Duncan) In 1977 I was 18. In 2018 I’m 59 pretending to be 18, failing comprehensively but having a great time doing it. In 1997 I was an ex musician, struggling to bring up a family. Now I’m a musician again, the best thing to be, although it’s great to have a family.
..In the song notes on the new album, you state that you, "Don’t normally get wound up by the news," in the piece accompanying ‘Bombs Away’. Have you always been of that kind of mind set - or has it been a case of maturing?
..Duncan) I get very wound up by the news now. I’m very angry that 36% of the electorate are forcing Brexit on the majority who didn’t vote for it and no one is standing up for us. Politicians! Yuk. Life goes on though.
..You live in London I believe. What are the best and worst aspects of living in London? Could you envisage living anywhere else - be it in the UK or abroad?
..Duncan) I have the best of all worlds. I live in London but I travel a lot including spending a good deal of time in France. The worst aspects of London are the weather - although there are worse places, getting around and the cost of housing. The best aspect is that all of life is here. There is just so much to do and see and so much vitality. There’s a track on our second album with the refrain "I can’t call another city home, and I’ll be back however far I roam".
..What next for THE BIG HEADS? Are you quite a prolific writer? Has the song writing dynamic changed now that you have a full band? What about tours? Is there much unreleased BOYS stuff that you know of?
..Duncan) The 4th album is two-thirds written and there are some cracking songs. I could go quicker but why knock myself out! I try to get other people involved with the writing but they don’t seem to want to! We tour constantly. We are soon off to South America, then Sweden, then the US and on it goes. We play a few BOYS songs live. I don’t think there’s any more BOYS stuff but I could be wrong.
..Anything you would like to add?
..Duncan) Get in touch if you want to put us on near where you live!