Updated: Apr 22, 2021
Here I talk to the talented Philip King who played in a number of indie bands such as The servants, Lush, Felt and The Hangman's Beautiful Daughters. It's safe to say Philip was THE person to ask what it was like to live through the 80's indie scene musically and politically!
Written by Scarlet Hall 04/12/20
SH: How did you get into indie music?
PK: It was a natural progression really. I followed various waves of new musical movements as they happened – Glam, Punk, Post-Punk. Around the early ‘80s, for the first time I, like others, started to take a look back musically – as well as still listening to guitar music that was current – Felt, The Go Betweens, Orange Juice, The Smiths etc – although they were referencing the 60s too. The ‘70s was too recent – so we alighted on the ‘60s. Some talk of a ’20 Year Rule’ before you started looking back at music and I certainly adhered to that. Cool 60s pop show ‘Ready Steady Go’ was being repeated on TV too – so that helped as well. Maybe it was because we were starved of good melodies in music at the time – as the scratchy post punk music scene seemed to dominate and was severely lacking in good tunes – and a lot of times, guitar tuners too. And in the charts the freshness of early synth pop – played one finger style on a monophonic keyboard that sounded like something out of Dr Who – was replaced by the sounds of the ‘Emulator’ and ‘Fairlight’ synthesizers – and everything was programmed to within an inch, or more, of its life. Looking back to the 60s also offered a glorious respite from the never-ending greyness of the UK in the ‘80s – Margaret Thatcher, the miners strikes, threat of imminent nuclear destruction (‘Protect And Survive’) and the Falklands War. Everything seemed to be in black and white – even the inky newsprint of the weekly music papers. Some of us even still had black and white televisions!
I remember I would get the train to Hayes in Middlesex, which was in west London out towards Heathrow airport, to rehearse with The Servants, practicing either in singer/songwriter David Westlake’s bedroom or at guitarist John Mohan’s (before we found a drummer and progressed to a rehearsal rooms in nearby Southall )and there were lots of factories and industry still there. I would alight at Hayes station by the Nestle factory, where they would make instant coffee and its chimney would be belching out dark acrid smoke – and on days when there was low cloud the town would smell of coffee from the factory. Other industries such as EMI records would have their pressing plant there too – and it would be very unusual to look at the condiments on your kitchen table and not see something that had been manufactured in Hayes. For example, Heinz manufactured baked beans, tomato sauces, sponge pudding desserts, canned pasta foods – and sauces such as HP, Daddies, Lea Perrins and cook-in sauces – all from there too
Compare that grimness with the permanent summertime scene of mid 60s Los Angeles. Groups such as Love and The Byrds, pictured against glorious pin sharp blue skies in living full colour, with melodies to kill for, cool colourful clothes, fantastic looking guitars (and such sounds – jangly 12 strings and booming bass especially) great attitude - and of course, fantastic hair.
SH: What it was like being in an indie band in that period of time?
PK: It was a lot of fun. There was a grassroots scene of clubs in pub back rooms and venues run by like-minded enthusiasts –for example, the EEC Punk Rock Mountain in Bristol (run by Claire and Matt from Sarah Records) and the Room At The Top in Chalk Farm in Camden (run by Dan Treacy from The TVPs and Emily, future singer of The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughters). Word would be spread on the grapevine via fanzines, phone calls and gentle gossip – and by listening to the John Peel show and reading the NME every week. Shows were either a bus or train ride away – or, in the back of drummer John Wills florist van to out of town destinations for shows that would only be an hour or so away, in such locations as Bedford, Oxford or Brighton. Also, we were all starting out – so it was a first for everything – and so immensely exciting. First NME feature, first John Peel session, first photo session, first recording session, first single etc etc. As our manager/record company boss Jeff Barrett did press for Creation we got the plum support gigs too – Primal Scream, Felt, The Go-Between, The Pale Fountains, The Weather Prophets – our first show was even supporting The Television Personalities – and we were just starting to do our own headlining shows when we sadly split. Unfortunately such attention often turns the heads of teenage boys straight out of their bedroom and in our case, did too. Such a shame as well as we had so many great songs that we never committed to vinyl and it would have been fantastic to have left a memorable album of songs. As it was our singer songwriter David Westlake was so prolific he was already writing songs for the ‘difficult second album’ before we had even attempted to record our first! At least we had a compilation of our recorded output, radio session and live material years later I guess. Once the group split I jumped ship to Felt -and then also The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughters, Biff Bang Pow!, Apple Boutique – and of course later on in the ‘90s, Lush and The Jesus And Mary Chain
The Servants only ever played 28 shows in their short career and the last ever show ended up being as support at the infamous Felt appearance at Bay 63 in Ladbroke Grove where Lawrence took acid and told the audience to stop staring at him, get their money back and go home. Mick Bund (later to play bass with both David Westlake and Felt), whose group – with Sarah Cracknell on vocals – opened the evening’s entertainment, got up on stage after Felt’s curtailed set and made an announcement saying that he hoped whoever had spiked Lawrence’s drink was pleased with themselves. Hmmm.
SH: Why the bowl cut?
PK: The bowlcut? I guess because it was all around me as I was so immersed in that period of music. Other had it too of course – Bobby Gillespie (and most of Primal Scream), Johnny Marr, Robert from Loop, a few of The Primitives. It was great to hide behind too – and especially for me since I was quite shy. How I got it was none more Indie. I had a copy of the Lady Penelope annual which I got from a local Jumble sale. There used to be loads on Saturdays round where I lived in Morden, Surrey (10 miles from the centre of London).They would be advertised in the local papers – and often they would be on the nearby St Helier Estate, purportedly the biggest council estate in Europe, which was across the other side of the allotments and railway embankment from where I lived with my dad. I would pick up old clothes, books, records, bric-a brac. furniture, record players, guitar amps even. In the Lady Penelope annual I had there was an article on The Walker Brothers – so I took that to the hairdressers and asked them to copy it. And wow, once I got that haircut did doors open for me! I distinctly remember walking into a Creation records night at The Boston Arms in Tufnell Park and Primal Scream playing – and to a man they all stared at me. They would the next year even ask me to mime playing drums in their ‘Gentle Tuesday’ video, the first video Primal Scream would make. Lawrence from Felt would ask to see my hairline – and later ask me to join his group and be in photo shoots and videos, Robert Forster from The Go-Betweens would ask me what hair conditioner I used. Also, on a hair-related angle, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughters would rehearse in the basement of a disused ladies hairdresser’s in the Old Kent Road called Sylvia’s.
SH: Style inspirations?
PK: The Velvet Underground , John Cale especially. All coolly dressed in black with their tight black jeans and Chelsea boots. I definitely copied the black rollneck pullovers, black Levi jeans and Chelsea boots from them. Shelley shoes were very popular for winklepicker boots around then – they even had a flagship store in the centre of the West End in Oxford Circus - but I always found their boots a bit cheap looking and too pointed for my taste – so bought mine from Johnsons on King’s Road. Although saying that, William from The Jesus And Mary Chain said I failed my first audition for them around then because, he claimed, my boots were too pointy!
Stu Sutcliffe from The (Hamburg) Beatles – for his great dark mop of hair – and of course not forgetting his leather trousers. Leather trousers were de riguer – and as Luke Haines said in his very funny autobiography “Bad Vibes : Britpop And My Part In Its downfall re Creation records groups of the time “the next big thing in leather trousers” Think I got mine from Kensington Market – and made sure they weren’t split knee and had pockets on the bum. Otherwise they could look very unflattering!
Ken Forsi, the bassist from Love – for his hair – and his boomy bass sound – and his nice casual windcheater jackets.
The Walker Brothers. All of them, but especially drummer Gary. They looked great in single lapel jackets too. I found a nice black 60s elephant cord one in Covent Garden market around this time.
The Byrds drummer Michael Clarke, because he was recruited for his good looks and Brian Jones-esque hairstyle – and said he was only in the group for the girls.
And not forgetting, Brian Jones of course. Especially liked that black and white stripey crew neck jumper he wore. I found something very similar, but in man-made fibres, from a woman’s bargain clothes shop in Oxford Street called ‘What She Wore.’
Around this time Psychic TV had a single out called Godstar – and Primal Scream supported them at the Town & Country Club in Kentish Town - and it was dedicated to the memory of Brian Jones. I had a sticker promoting it on my bass guitar case. It said ‘Brian Jones died for your sins’ and was on the tube going home to Morden one night and some grumpy old man read it and snorted dismissively ,“No, he bloody well didn’t!”