One of the things I admire the most about Duncan’s former band The Boys, is how great the band remained throughout their career. For me, each of their albums got better and better when it seemed for many of their peers the exact opposite was happening. They started off as punk with a pop edge and ended up with straight power pop gems To Hell With The Boys and Boys Only. Duncan Reid’s debut solo album Little Big Head picks up right where those two albums left off. Tremendous power pop the likes of which this earth hasn’t seen for a long time and was long overdue for. Memorable songs with no fillers, the way our rock n roll forefathers intended it. A friend of mine described Duncan Reid’s music as “beyond brilliant”, who am I to squabble?
Interview by Jay Castro
Let’s start with: where you are originally from and what (or whom) motivated you to want to pick up an instrument and learn how to play it?
I’m from a little, historic town in England called Canterbury. It’s famous for its Cathedral which is the centre of the Church of England, the official religion here. Nothing ever happens but it was a great place to grow up. We lived on a Council estate, which was housing given to families who couldn’t afford their own place. It wasn’t rough though, or at least, it didn’t seem rough to me. We were always outside in the street, kicking a football which we were mad about, playing cricket or riding our bicycles.
As little 7 year old boys we would ride for miles on our bicycles, sometimes going to the seaside for a swim, which would take all morning to get to. We’d get hungry at mid day and knock on some strangers door to ask for a sandwich. Can you imagine today? A parent’s nightmare.
Or we’d raid the local apple farms, stealing from the trees. My little brother even managed to steal a ton of trout from the local fish farm, sneaking in there with his fishing rod. One of the bigger boys picked on him once so I waded in all tough and hit the bully. I broke my little finger so I’ve never thought it a good idea to hit anybody since.
London was only sixty miles away but it was in another universe which I moved to when I was 16.
There were only two things I ever wanted to be- either George Best, a really famous and brilliant footballer, or Paul MacCartney. I was never big or fast enough for football so it was the singing bass player route for me.
You started your musical career with The Boys in late ’75, ’76 when you were a teenager. One of the things that separated that band from other British punk at the time was that you kept politics and out of your music. As a solo artist do you still subscribe to this mantra? If so why?
Well, I have so far but maybe I should have a go at it. I’m always looking for new ideas for song lyrics. I’ll have to look for a cause to bang on about. Maybe I’ll write a song about bus passes!
Do you feel like Rock ‘N’ Roll music has had, at least in part a “good guys finish last” motif. Even pop groups seem to be getting more attention for their ridiculous behavior rather than their actual art. Take for example when Andrew Oldham puffed up the Rolling Stones as a darker more brooding version of The Beatles, or even Jerry Lee Lewis marrying his 13 year old cousin. Did you feel your career overshadowed a bit because the groups you were in never had anyone that purposefully cut themselves on stage or cursed on live national television?
Well, The Beatles started out as goody two shoes, nice boys and it didn't stop them getting big now did it? The Boys were actually quite an outrageous bunch. Big party animals. Although extremely talented I think the “party at all cost” approach prevented The Boys being as big as they could have been. Much more effort went into having a good time and finding the next drink than went into being as good as we could be. Like The Faces, who had a similar approach, we were still bloody good though.
The songs on Little Big Head have a very timeless feel to them. Have you written these songs in the last few years or did a version of them exist in rough sketch form for a long time now?
All of the songs were written in the year leading up to making the record. I'd made a record with Honest John Plain and Vom Ritchie from Die Toten Hosen called The Mattless Boys (as all the Boys including Casino Steele but not Matt Dangerfield were on it). That was the first record where I was happy with my song writing. Afterwards, I got myself some home recording software and the songs kept tumbling out. I thought they would either be for a new Mattless Boys or even Boys record as that was being planned.
Events overtook that though, so when I left The Boys, I found I had enough for an album and so made one! The two songs written after I left the band and just before recording started were Montevideo and All fall Down.
The video for the song “Aren’t Women Wonderful” features a lot of great classic movie clips. You have also produced and financed a number of films and television shows if I’m not mistaken. Does film influence your music a lot? What are some of your favorite film/television projects you’ve worked on?
The video was made by a Brazilian lady called Andrea Stern who is a film student in England. I think that's why it has so many film references in it. I really like the video. It goes perfectly with the song as it has all those classic actresses in it.
Yes, I've been involved with a lot of films and TV. Many of them I wouldn't want to own up to! One I'm very proud of is Hotel Rwanda. It won many awards and was nominated for 3 Oscars. It's a true story about a man who, through circumstance and against his will and judgement, becomes a hero, saving the lives of countless people. It's very moving and leaves you full of admiration for the real man it's based on.
I went to a screening in Los Angeles where, after the film, the star Don Cheadle came out and answered questions. After a while he said "Here he is. The man the film is about." There was a loud gasp as the whole audience rose to their feet. It was a bit like going to see a Superman film when Superman comes into the cinema after.
There is a church in LA which gave me an award as an "Outstanding Humanitarian" for my role with that film. They clearly don't know me!
With this being your first solo record, was it difficult not having a group there with you to bounce ideas off of or fill in some gaps when you arrived at a creative impasse?
When it works I think the group dynamic is the best way to make a record. It happened with the early Boys albums. Songs were written and bought to the rehearsal studio but a lot of input came from everyone during the rehearsal period. That happened less with the later albums and I think they would have been the better for it.
As I mentioned before, I'd made pretty detailed demos at home of all the songs on Little Big Head but I still had Tony Barber in the studio dissecting them and putting them together in a different way. Tony has worked with loads of people from The Buzzcocks to Nirvana. He's getting better and better as a producer and I've learned so much from him.
We've started making the second album with my new band playing on it and its sounding meaty. I would like to find a songwriting partner. It would speed the process up, but the new songs seem to be coming together fine using the old method.
The song “Rolling On” is a retrospective or your life. You go through your personal life and career in a way that would suggest you have no regrets. Is this an accurate interpretation or are there any one or two things that really stand out to you as wishing you would have done differently?
I can't complain about the hand life has dealt me. There have been some hard times but when I look back at all of the things I have done and all the places I've seen I know I've been lucky. And it's still going on. It's like I've been given this licence which allows me not to grow up.
I'm sitting here in Stockholm right now looking at the waterfront. Tonight a load of people will turn up (I hope!), I'll play to them, it will be great fun and during and after they will make me feel special.
If you complain about that you really are a miserable bastard!
I read an interview where you told the story of The Boys touring with the Ramones and you and Casino Steel had to teach Johnny how to play the song Baby I Love You and even come on stage and play it with them during their show. This obviously was a huge bonding experience, because from what I’ve read those guys weren’t exactly the easiest guys to get to know! If you could take any band/musician with you in the supporting slot on the tour who would it be and why?
I think it was John Plain who taught Johnny to play Baby I Love you because he didn't know it. Johnny was completely foxed by the fact it had a minor chord. The Ramones didn't play those. Cas played the string parts on his organ and we sang backing vocals making us the only two people to play live with The Ramones who were not called Ramone.
The Ramones were an odd, unhappy bunch. They say "don't meet your Heroes". Very true.
I would always take TV Smith with me on tour.
A. He's a great act,
B. He's a great guy,
C. I love playing One Chord Wonders with him, and
D. There's only one of him so it’s easy.
In your musical career, you have played all over the globe many times over. Is there a place that you consistently anticipate playing? If so where is it and what makes it so special?
Boy, there are so many. I can't wait to get back here to Sweden. Talk about pretty girls. And they like getting drunk too! Audiences in South America are wild and I love the Japanese. So polite and then they go mad while you play. They look after you so well in Germany, and Italians are so stylish. I wish they all could be London fans (there's a song in there!).
What’s in store for the near or not so near future? Any plans for another record?
We are really busy. We have tours of Norway, Germany and the UK leading up to Christmas. I'm working on getting to the US next year and in the meantime we have already started recording the next album. I've written the majority of it. We'll fit the recording around our availability and that of Tony Barber and look to get it out next year.
Coming soon is a new video of "Kelly's Gone Insane" which we will use to try some digital marketing experiments. All part of getting the name out there.
Where can people go to hear your music or purchase the wonderful Little Big Head album?
If people want a signed cd direct they can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise it's at places like Amazon, Spotify and all the usual download places.
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