Hanging around at Better Badges, where this fanzine is on sale, we decided an interview with Hamish of the Sexbeatles had to be our next project. A cassette tape was found, a recorder borrowed, and then the interview took place, Hamish beginning like this:
H: I was working in Spain with somebody looking after his band and he turned round and asked me if I wanted to play in a festival with him. I said yes so he taught me the rudiments of singing, what his stuff was, so I played with him in this massed band. We played at this festival in Barcelona, with Ultravox, Nico and Blondie.
NC: What was that band?
H: It was some sort of dodgy Mallorcan-American combination made up of Mallorcan musicians, French and English under the auspices of this guy called Daevid Allen who used to be in Soft Machine. It was his band, he was the contact, and at the end of that I just reformed a band called The Offbeats, which were all three Spanish people and two English people. It just continued from there, sort of hanging about Mallorca. We were the first Mallorcan punk band. None of us knew how to play anything, we were pretty abysmal, but the guitarist and the bassist knew how to play. Me and the drummer just picked it up as we went along and we got better in terms of experience. Just as we’d changed the name to the Sexbeatles and added a girl singer someone turned round and said why don’t you record a single for us, cos that’s a good name. We said OK so we recorded for them the first song we ever wrote, which was called Well You Never. The main words are ’well you never should have shown me the way to rock’n’roll’ which was a bit naive really, but three years ago for me it was a great buzz to do it so we did a song about it. The production on it is all right. The B-side’s all right. It’s now unavailable but if you hear it, it’ll make you laugh. It is naive. It’s on Charly Records. Three Spaniards and one American girl, one English guy and me, who, I say I’m English but I’m Scottish. Since then we’ve been in Spain, picked up a reputation in Madrid and Barcelona, got ourselves the colour spreads over there. The thing is we’ve never had any money or any equipment or anything, so if we have to do a gig, we get together the day before the gig, rehearse all our stuff and do it. The last time we came back from Spain we sacked the guitarist and went down to a three piece as the American girl never came, she stayed over here.
NC: Did she sing on the single?
H: She sings backing vocals on the B-side, which is called Fascination. She stayed over here and I went over there just to find out what was going on. We found this guitarist called Ollie Halsall who used to play with Gary Glitter and Kevin Ayers and John Otway. He wasn’t doing anything as Kevin Ayers had gone to New York. He said let’s do a jam session so we did a jam session for about three hundred people. We did a week’s rehearsal, then we did another gig and people really picked up on that.
A week later I’m back here and I get a phone call from Spain asking me to do a festival for thirty thousand people with Dr Feelgood and about six Spanish bands. We got this guitarist, but only for the summer. It’s very difficult for me to work in England and Spain, when I’m not a musician. I need to work with someone all the time. I write all the songs, I write all the words and everything, but musically we’re fucked because we’re never together. It’s very difficult going backwards and forwards to Spain. We haven’t seen each other for six months then we get back together and in one day we’re playing twelve new songs. That’s the way the band works.
We’re playing second, which is the best number to play. The doors open at 8pm, the first band comes on at 10pm and it goes through till about 8am in the morning. Feelgood will play at about 2am, which is prime time. They’ll play 2am till 3am. We’ll play 11pm till midnight. They’ll be a guy with a acoustic guitar, then Feelgood. It’s total chaos as they throw in all these Spanish superstars who you’ve never heard of, but they have.
NC: What do you do on stage?
H: We actually got a reputation for fucking on stage, me and the American girl who sings. As near as possible we fucked on stage, far more out front than The Plasmatics and The Tubes, and far more real, not theatrical at all. There were times when I pulled hair out and would have liked to have slashed my chest with razors, like Iggy used to do, but I didn’t have the razors with me. Onstage there have been times when the song has become emotionally involved, all of our songs are emotionally involved. They’re all about experience of life, whether it’s fear, or sex, or whatever, all of these different aspects are brought into it, so onstage a lot of that comes out. We got banned in Majorca on numerous occasions or refused entry to gigs, to play them, because of indecent acts on stage.
We’re not a big band but we’ve done enough gigs in Madrid and Barcelona to convince people that Spain has got something to offer. We’re a Spanish band. Playing Barcelona you get all the Barcelona punks and mods. Go to Madrid and it’s much more like playing the Lyceum. Three thousand kids a night, they’re all raincoats and bleached white hair. The bands they listen to over there, that get played regularly on the radio and in the discotheques are bands like the B52s, Public Image, The Clash. They’re far more new wave orientated there, media wise, than we are. Radio One is pure soap suds.
NC: Do they understand the words?
H: They try to. We always get large numbers of people asking us for translations. Last time we played Madrid we gave out three hundred and fifty translated works, as they are.
NC: You’ve been accused of having a rip-off name, just to get publicity.
H: It was a mistake. Someone once said to me ’Who’s your favourite band?’ and I’d been talking about the Sex Pistols and I said the Sexbeatles by mistake. I meant to say The Beatles. So someone said that’s a good name so we just did it for this festival in Glastonbury. It was such a joke. All the other bands that were playing there, Steve Hillage and all these different people, there was nothing acutely new wave at all, and we thought ’The Sexbeatles, let’s put them on at Glastonbury’ so we played there with Steve Hillage’s drummer, in fact, which is a bit of a cheek. But fuck any association of ripping it off, it wasn’t a rip off. For me it’s a good name because everybody knows it. Not everybody, but throughout the continent those who know about English new wave bands know the name of the Sexbeatles. They don’t know anything about them, the music or anything.
NC: So the single sold largely because of the name, did it?
H: I would think so yeah, because it wasn’t a particularly good single.
NC: How many did it sell?
H: Here it sold seven thousand. In Spain it sold four thousand and in France it sold four thousand and in the States, it wasn’t distributed over there, they just sent two thousand copies over. But they sold in Australia, Japan, all over the place. Charly are hopeless. You never break any money out of their banks. They claim you owe it all. We in fact did another single but the tape I was given to listen to, until it was ready to be released or discussed, was slowed down. The mixing desk at the studio we were using was fucked. The tapes were all slowed down by something like one and a half seconds so it all sounded out of tune and all wrong. When the error was pointed out, Charly refused to pay for any more time, so we lost it, it disappeared. Then when they did agree to do it we couldn’t get the vocals right on it, again, because the original vocal was done in a completely wasted fashion, as it was meant to be done. I’d spent days working on it and when it came to doing it again, I hadn’t had time to work on the voice. It was meant to be a real ’I’ve had too much to smoke, to drink, I’ve had too much of everything, but here I am still confessing my rawest urges for this girl’, which is what rock’n’roll’s about at the moment. Everyone goes out pretentiously about nuclear warfare, but half the idea is to score the chick at the other end of the table. I work for Better Badges at all these rock’n’roll gigs, the Lyceum, the Palais, down at Heaven, only the new wave stuff. The idea is to go out looking good – doesn’t matter so much who’s playing as long as they’re vaguely connected with your scene – and to try and pick up so and so who you think is really good and tasty. Rock’n’roll is basically centred around sex. Johnny Lydon pointed out that sex is totally invalid really and I agree with that, but it isn’t in rock’n’roll.
That’s why I’m quite happy being in the Sexbeatles, the band everybody loves to hate because of the name. Yet nobody knows anything about us. What do they want me to play? Punk? Rock’n’Roll? Reggae? I’ll play anything they want because that’s the way the market is. It’s what people want.
My favourite type of music is atmospheric music. I go for groups like Joy Division and Crass in terms of listening power. Not in terms of music so much, but in terms of atmosphere both bands create on and off stage, and the charisma they though out, which isn’t a rock’n’roll charisma. I wouldn’t call it intellectual, it’s purely atmospheric, but in terms of different things, atmospheres in bedrooms, atmospheres in railway stations, atmospheres when you’re on your own, but Joy Division tend to stick to a basic atmosphere, a basic loneliness, a basic point of view. Public Image tend to throw atmosphere about, but they use rhythm a lot.
NC: How do you do it?
H: By not limiting myself to a particular structure. I see something happening and it gives me a certain reflection which comes out in the music as that sort of music. Songs don’t necessarily follow each other. They might have the same rhythm or they might be totally alien to each other.
We had an option as the Sexbeatles of being a funny band. We could have done the Albertos (y Lost Trios Paranoias). We could have ripped everybody off. We could have done Beatles or Sex Pistols numbers funny.
In our early set we played five times in England and we went down really well each time. We went down best in Liverpool. We used to have a song in our set called Anarchy in Liverpool, which was the only song that came close to being the Sexbeatles in terms of what people would expect. That was the lyrics of Beatles’ songs to the tune of Anarchy in the UK. Things like ’Picture yourself and me’ throwing in the ’me’ out of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. The original lyric is ’Picture yourself in a boat on a river’ so we had ’Picture yourself and me in a boat on the river with Tangerine Dream and all Marmalade singles and it’s Yesterday forever’ with a Beatles lyric thrown in after that, ’Take me down to the bottom and up to the top once again’ which is out of Helter Skelter. It fits in exactly to ’I wanna be An-Ar-chy’ If you wanna try something interesting, try singing the words of Eight Days A Week to Anarchy in the UK. It fits in exactly.
That was a laugh, that was funny, but at the same time that line about ’Picture yourself and me in a boat on the river with Tangerine Dream and all Marmalade singles and it’s Yesterday forever’, so many people still live in that world. That’s a true inflection, but I only thought that afterwards. It fitted perfectly, it was an off-the-cuff thing, but there are a lot of people who are still into Tangerine Dream and all Marmalade singles.
NC: But why not?
H: Exactly. What’s wrong with The Beatles? What’s wrong with the Pistols? There’s not many bands I don’t like. I don’t think recreating style is a good idea. That’s why I don’t go for things like Subway Sect, Vic Godard, to re-do 1940s style. I don’t mind the rockabilly thing cos they’re actually breaking away from the traditional rockabilly sound and rockabilly ethics, but to assume you’re Frank Sinatra, in 1981.There is one Frank Sinatra and he’s still alive and he’s still doing it.
(Talking about The Fall)
H: Their road manager, Grant Showbiz, he’s a friend of mine. He used to be Steve Hillage’s friend and personal aid. He comes in and goes ’Love The Fall. Don’t understand them sometimes, but love ’em.’ That’s a great attitude. Johnny Lydon says some really bizarre things that really dig at people. He speaks his mind in all cases, pointing out the rights and wrongs in our society, even pointing a finger at himself. He’s no better off than any of us. He wants to be, same as we all want to be. People like Killing Joke have a good, positive attitude towards life, yet they’re regarded by a lot of people as a band totally into negative sound and ideas, nihilism, bomb-politics, bomb-romance, all in the shadow of the neutron bomb. They’re not like that at all. On stage they deliver quite a vivacious set. The finger’s pointing: ’What about you? What have you got to say? Stand up and shout it’. That’s the most important politic punk brought out. ’What about you? Don’t just listen to us up on stage’. Killing Joke are an angry band, but very happy too, cos they’ve got a lot of response out of a lot of people.