The following No Class interview with Sam Dodson of The Transmitters was originally published in Hamish Ironside’s Saudade Fanzine.
Justice Is Our Conviction is a recently released benefit LP from which artists’ royalties will be given to the Martin Foran Defence Campaign. Allegedly, Foran has twice been framed by officers from the notorious, and now defunct, West Midlands Police Serious Crime squad (the same squad involved with the Birmingham Six), and is currently in Frankland jail, near Durham, serving an eight years sentence on charges of robbery and conspiracy to rob, although the sentence was extended by six years after he took a member of the prison staff hostage. Martin maintains his innocence and as such has jeopardised his chances of parole and early release.
The LP is a mixture of punky and more experimental, On-U-Soundy tracks by Anhrefn, Mega City Four, Sink, Visions Of Change, The Shamen, Plant Bach Ofnus, Annie Anxiety Bandez, Bim Sherman and Dub Syndicate, Barmy Army, Benjamin Zephaniah and The Transmitters. Who are The Transmitters? They’re a west London band with a pedigree going back ten years. The name’s the same but there have been a few line up changes since they were label mates with The Fall, on Step Forward, and their John Peel sessions were broadcast.
Sam: We were one of those groups that never fitted into any category. In ’79 there were bands like The Pop Group and The Good Missionaries, and we felt a certain kinship to the way they worked. We were more organised than them, but we came up with a much less organised sound. Even now, we’ve been compared to Stump, to Talking Heads, and I think “I don’t like Stump, I don’t like Talking Heads. Why am I doing this?” and I listen to what we’re doing and I think “I love it”. It’s because it sounds different.
Why did you contribute towards the LP?
Sam: It’s something that we believe in. the injustice that goes on in this country is ridiculous. As soon as we were asked we wanted to know all the details and then we were right behind it. What I hope it achieves is bringing to attention the Martin Foran case. I don’t think it’ll make that much money but if it gets reviewed it might bring forward his case to the public eye. It’s in the background at the moment, there’s the odd article but that’s about it. The Transmitters have always involved ourselves in political things. We’ve always done benefits, always been very ‘left field’. Since Thatcher got in we’ve always worked against her in any way that we can, although when we go out and play it’s not always that obvious that we’re politically minded.
What about the selection of bands featured on the LP?
Sam: Great. I think it’s a really good mixture. Bands like The Shamen: great. I think they’re really excellent. It has a broad enough scope so it will actually attract more attention than if it was just one style of music.
Tell me about the featured Transmitters track: Count Your Blessings.
Sam: God knows what it’s about, but it’s a nasty little song. There are lines in it like “cut your fingers off”. It’s all about debts piling up; it’s very subversive in it’s own way.
Is it of direct relevance to the cause?
Sam. No. Most of the songs are knocking the system in a way. That song is certainly knocking the system: not necessarily policing, but there is a bit of that in there, to my knowledge. As with any lyric it’s down to interpretation. That one seemed to fit more than any of them; also it’s a horrible noise.
Who wrote it?
Sam: We all do the writing. The singer wrote the words but the music is written by the band. His commitments mean he has to be an unknown quantity. He is one fifth of the band and therefore anything he writes has to be through his publishing. They know that he’s on it, but at the moment it’s one of those secrets, possibly down to the fact that it’s more enigmatic to not know who’s in the band, which is why on the single no one gets a mention at all. I think he’s the best singer we’ve ever had, he writes lyrics that are closer to my heart than anyone else as a Transmitter ever has. He’s irreplaceable.
Will Count Your Blessings be available elsewhere?
Sam: No. We may re-record that song, but there’s no way that version would be available anywhere else.
Would a re-recording be much different?
Sam: Oh God yeah! Every time we ever play anything it always sounds different, it’s the nature of the way The Transmitters have always worked. There’s so much improvisation that goes on around the basic structure that even if we re-record something on the same day, the mood will always be the same but the instrumentation will always be completely different.
Would you be able to re-do it the same?
Sam: No, no way. A lot of what we do is down to our own mistakes. When you’re improvising you lose yourself; there’s no way you can repeat what you do when you lose yourself. That is largely one of the things that we’re trying to achieve as a group: losing what we’re doing but still managing to work within a structure. A lot of the writing is purely by improvisation.
You don’t use samples, do you?
Sam: We prefer in a live situation to use tapes. There’s something a little bit clinical about sampling, especially for The Transmitters. In a studio it works, but live it becomes difficult. We’ve sampled Stockhausen, Bartok, Ligeti, a lot of classical people, a lot of world musicians. We use voices from all over the place. Turkish. We tend towards Islam in voices. African. We’re in for the steal, basically. Howlin’ Wolf. Flute solos. We will manipulate them a bit, put them backwards, put effects through them, put echo on them. Ultimately, if people start sampling from us, that’s brilliant.
In its own right, the band’s most recent release is a four track 12″: The Mechanic / Testosterone / The Wrong Clothes / Ferryboat Bill released on there own Craving Company label. Ferryboat Bill is a Velvet Underground song; a strange choice of material:
Sam: It fitted in so much with what we were doing that we made it our own. The song is completely unfinished. I first found it on a bootleg called Velvet Underground Etc., but it’s since been released on an album called VU, I think, on Verve. We almost play it note for note, apart from the guitar solo that I have mutilated somewhat. Through the single we wanted to show the diversity of the group: the noise of The Mechanic; the organisation of Testosterone, the looseness of The Wrong Clothes and then have this quirky little song at the end that wasn’t ours at all. John Peel played it; he probably hated everything else on it.