The Hollywood Brats: Probably the best band you never heard of…
I got a few questions about The Hollywood Brats and your new book but we do not have to follow the script, we can just see where the conversation leads us.
AM: ‘Scripts are rubbish, let’s just trot, let’s go crazy. I am at the Dorchester actually having a little bit of a bash for The Hollywood Brats as the album came out last week and a paperback version of the book came out yesterday, so we have been knocking them back so please forgive me if we go off base here.’
So it’s an album and a book launch?
AM: ‘Indeed and it’s sponsored by Grey Goose so we have had a few vodka’s here. Oh by the way if you want a nice Vodka go for Grey Goose.’
Firstly, I would just like to talk about your memoir ‘Sick On You’, which is your failed attempt to turn The Hollywood Brats into rock n roll stars. It is a hilarious read and it has been almost impossible to put the book down. Did you find writing the book difficult?
AM: ‘It was not difficult to write at all the whole story is insane it was completely bonkers. I mostly worked from diaries, Brady (Euan Brady, Brats guitarist) and yours truly kept meticulous diaries although I did have to amend them somewhat as they were a bit salacious.’
What was you inspiration for starting a band in the first place? In the book, you talk with great humour about your hatred for music that was around in the early 1970’s. It would be fair to assume that this was one of your inspirations for starting a band?
AM: ‘Exactly, hatred is one of the purest emotions and I still have banks of it I really do. I absolutely detested music at that time, it was denim, it was old, bald guys, it was drum solos, guitar solos that went on forever and played by people who could barely play and it was bloody gongs, do you remember gongs? That music drove me nuts and still drives me nuts to this day and something had to be done and I thought I was the man to do it’.
Speaking of ‘gongs’, a man who did occasionally play one was Keith Moon and apparently he delivered a tray of drinks to you and the band after a gig at the Speakeasy?
AM: ‘Yes he did and he was a really lovely man and also a bit of a champion for us in the ensuing weeks until he forgot who we were, (laughs) but he was very nice to us and what a gentleman too and he was one of my heroes – and what a brilliant drummer.’
The Brats were originally called The Queen and you hit Freddie Mercury at The Marquee over band naming rights.
AM: ‘You hit Freddie Mercury you are going to have your knuckles scarred by those teeth right? Actually, I just gave him a backhand and I was just trying to swat him away as one would with a Middle Eastern fly. It wasn’t anything you can consider a fight let me tell you.
I want to talk a little about the debut album, which was recorded at Olympic Studios.
AM: ‘What a fabulous studio that was probably the best studio ever and probably is to this day, the types of characters that were there when we were recording was astounding too, The Eagles, David Bowie, The Bee Gees, Donovan.
Didn’t David Bowie walk in during one of your recording sessions and said he loved one of your songs. I think the song was ‘Nightmare’?
AM: ‘Yeah, Bowie did come in and he also let us listen to what he was doing at the time and it was the brilliant ‘Rebel Rebel’, (Hums the guitar riff) brilliant riff and then he came in and heard what we were doing, because that was the norm at Olympic, you know you could just wander around and listen to what each other were doing etc. Bowie liked what we were doing, he nodded his head like mad and tapped his stack-heeled toes and said ‘luv it! luv it!’. He was a lovely man and a low-key gentleman as well.’
The album did not get released at the time. How did you feel about that?
AM: ‘I immediately looked for a razor blade to slit my wrists (laughs) and not finding one. It was heartbreaking because I knew we had delivered something. But alas timing is everything and to quote from the Bible (not that I read one) is that ‘to everything, there is a season’.
It has been argued that the album is a Proto-Punk classic and listening to it now it has not aged a day.
AM: We delivered what we wanted to deliver and that is a good thing but nobody at the time wanted it at all. Everybody hated us and the closest we came to a deal was with Bell Records or some such idiotic label like that, who had people like David Cassidy on it and then they heard the Brats and told us they did not want anybody who sounds like that on their label. That was just the prevailing attitude at the time.’
Well the album was delivered with attitude and it is a dirty gritty in your face record and it could be argued that it was an influence on Punk Rock.
AM: ‘There was no Punk Rock when we actually made it and we recorded it in a vacuum. Everything was so vacuous at the time and all we knew was that everything needed to be shaken-up, grabbed by the lapels and driven mad. I mean you did not want your parents or your older brothers liking what you were into too. Rock n Roll had gone off the beam at that time, so we were trying to address that core problem’.
I would just like to return to the book, which has been critically acclaimed. Are you flattered by the positive response to your memoir?
AM: ‘I am very happy about it and people have said such nice things about it. It is a bit difficult for me to answer this question but yes I am very pleased at the way it has been received. It has warmed the cockles of my soul let’s put it that way.’
Well it is an incredibly funny book and it has the humour of Spinal Tap except The Hollywood Brats were so much poorer.
AM: ‘(Laughs) so you have a sense of humour? I like that’.
I hate to mention this but I would argue that too many comparisons have been made between yourselves and the New York Dolls. It is clear from the book that any musical or aesthetic comparison was a coincidence only.
AM: ‘It makes good sense to mention it and it is just one of those bloody weird things that happens in this world. When we first saw their picture in the NME, we were aghast as they were doing a similar thing to what we were doing. I respect the New York Dolls, but we wiped the floor with them musically’.
You were given a copy of the Dolls debut album and you were not that impressed by what you heard.
AM: ‘No, not at all because we had built them up in our minds so much and we were like, oh my God how can there be another one of us? When we heard their music we wiped our brows and went phew. We didn’t dislike the Dolls or anything like that, but we thought this was serious competition until we dropped the needle on the record.’
Cherry Red Records have recently reissued the album with a bonus disc of previously unreleased material, and after four decades since the album was recorded do you think The Hollywood Brats are finally getting their dues?
AM: ‘Well I don’t think there are any dues. You do what you do and you just put it out there and the devil takes the high most. You put something out in the marketplace and let the marketplace decide and if they were not ready then but ready now, so be it. I am not bothered in the slightest by the way, I am having fun and what is happening now has engendered loads of new opportunities for me. I am having a blast. For God’s sake I am at the Dorchester having a party and if you want Vodka then make it Grey Goose.’
I have heard a rumour that the BBC is making a documentary?
AM: ‘They are and I am being filmed right now as we speak’.
Really? Are you involved behind the scenes? What part are you playing in its production?
AM: ‘I am the boss of everything that is being recorded by the BBC except your show. You’re the boss of that.’
You recently appeared at Glastonbury. How did that go?
AM: ‘Glastonbury was absolutely amazing. I had never been before and it was utterly amazing, the people were fantastic and it was as muddy as I had been told it would be.’
How did a dapper man like yourself deal with all that mud?
AM: ‘They told me I would have to wear wellies. Can you imagine me wearing willies? I told them no chance and I managed to get to the stage looking immaculate.’
So you were there to promote the book?
AM: ‘Yes I was applauded on and applauded and cheered off and they gave me drinks throughout the talk, and that is how I judge the standard of how things are going (laughs).’
Finally, I have heard that the Brats have reformed. Can we expect a tour soon?
AM: ‘You know what? I read that in Mojo recently and I thought is that right? I better get singing or something. We have had offers from all around the globe and who knows. We are all alive and well and we all have our own hair, which is essential for me and if you’re going to reform and one of us were bald I wouldn’t allow it. To answer your question yes I think it might happen and you will be the first to know.’ ‘Oh and by the way, if your’re thinking of having a Vodka then try Grey Goose’.
Longjohns recent Hollywood Brats LP review is below
In 1971 an 18-year-old Andrew Matheson arrived in London with just a guitar, a few quid and a head full of ideas about forming the perfect Rock n Roll band. Matheson drew up a five-point list that these band members would have to adhere to and the rules were simple. You had to “think like a star’’, have great hair (preferably straight hair), must be slender, young, and absolutely no facial hair and above all no girlfriends.
Matheson found his kindred spirits in the shape of Norwegian Stein Groven (Casino Steel), Euan Brady, Wayne Manor and Lou Sparks. These members would form the nucleus of The Hollywood Brats and Matheson’s attempts to turn these disparate bunch of Brats into bone-fide rock stars failed abysmally, and this glorious failure is told in hilarious detail in his recent memoir, Sick On You: The Disastrous Story of Britain’s Great Lost Punk Band.
The Hollywood Brats also recorded what might be considered one of the first British Proto-Punk albums of the 1970s, and it has been re-mastered and re-packaged by Cherry Red Records as a vital 2-CD set, which includes their one and only long player, plus a bonus disc of “Brats Miscellany’’, featuring, rarities, a few cover versions and a number of tracks that were muted for a second album. The set also includes detailed liner notes with written contributions from Matheson and Casino Steel.
As this album suggests The Hollywood Brats should have carved out a niche for themselves, but the tale of the Brats really is a tale of starvation, struggle, comedic bad timing and bad luck. Whatever momentum The Brats were starting to build-up was then quickly thwarted, when Matheson opened up the NME one morning in 1972 and what looked back at him was a band that were the total mirror image of themselves.
The New York Dolls were another tough Rock n Roll band with an equal amount of androgynous glamour, but they had the added bonus of having a record deal, a publicity machine and (sadly for the Brats) a tour booked for the U.K. The comparisons visually and musically are obvious, and although both bands ploughed a similar musical furrow it is a mere coincidence only as Matheson explained that he had never heard of the Dolls until he picked up the NME on that fateful day in 1972.
The Hollywood Brats debut album is played fast and loud and has the swaggering attitude of the Rolling Stones and T-Rex thrown in for good measure. However, the Brats were amplified just that little bit louder, and took the gender-bending pretensions of Glam that little bit further by smearing themselves in “Cleopatra Eye Liner’’ and “Cherry Blaze Outdoor Girl Lipstick’’. One can only imagine Matheson preening on stage in his glam rags, puckering up his ruby red lips to sing The Crystals classic “Then He Kissed Me’’ (featured here) to the baying violent mobs that frequently attended their live shows.
It would be too easy to get side-tracked by the doomed failure of The Hollywood Brats but two things should be remembered. Firstly they looked great and steered well clear of food encrusted facial hair, “upper lip fringes’’ and the dirty denim, which was so prevalent in the 1970s. Secondly, they recorded a lean, mean, muscular album that had songs that were full of bravado, wit and spades full of nihilism.
The album never saw the light of day in the U.K but was subsequently released in Norway before Cherry Red Records happened across a copy of this ultra rare album in 1978. It is largely thanks to them and Matheson’s brilliant memoir that The Hollywood Brats have not been confined to the dustbin of musical history. Although the album may not be an out and out classic there are still a handful of great songs on it, plus it has the added bonus of being played by glamorous lady boys draped in feather boas and dripping in lipstick, mascara and red nail varnish.
The album has attitude and it sounds lean, raw, and dirty and as Matheson explains in his memoir he was “driven by the purest of all emotions, which was hatred’’. Matheson made no attempt to hide his complete disdain for music that he considered was full of it’s own self-importance and he argued that “music needed to be grabbed by the lapels and shaken up’’.
Matheson steered these London ‘belles’ away from standard boring guitar noodling and dull drum solos and the ubiquitous Prog Rock pretensions that were so prevalent at the time. Instead The Brats aimed for something much more visceral, efficient, tough and above all sexy and provocative, but sadly for the Brats no one at the time was listening.
Listening to the album will probably draw the listener to the conclusion that The Hollywood Brats sound like a hybrid of the Stones and the New York Dolls. However, the album should be taken on it’s own merit, and there are a handful of great tracks, including album opener, Chez Maximes, Nightmare, Courtesan, Zurich 17, and Tumble With Me, which are all Glam rockers, have tough guitar riffs and sound equally trashy and vicious.
However, the album has the one stone cold classic and it is the hate-filled closing song Sick On You. The vitriol poured out by Matheson towards a girl he no longer loves is delivered with such snarling venom and when he spits the opening words “you wanna know what it’s like condemned to live with you, it’s some kind of suicide, some phase that I went through’’, the moniker “Proto Punks’’ may indeed be fully justified.
There is definitely a correlation between The Hollywood Brats debut album and Matheson’s memoir that they are almost mutually dependent on each other, and should be enjoyed together. This album has the swagger and attitude you would associate with the Brats Glam Rock peers but, has the added impetus of rage and frustration thrown in for good measure. The Hollywood Brats were condemned to failure and obscurity but their combustible anger filled music would inadvertently manifest itself in Punk Rock, so perhaps we should be thankful for small mercies.