Dave Cairns guitarist with Secret Affair
I’ve been following the careers of Secret Affair main men Ian Page and Dave Cairns since their early days as members of the punk-era group the New Hearts. The fact that former Gorillas drummer Matt McIntyre was playing with them may have piqued my interest in them at the time but even after Matt left I stayed along for the ride with the song writing duo of Page/Cairns. Like many of the groups during the 76-77 era the New Hearts as a band were largely finished after only a couple of singles into their nascent career. Gig wise the young band played the likes of the Reading Festival and had the opening slot on the Modern World tour with the Jam but the New Hearts, as I previously mentioned, were done as a band in only about a year. Less than a season or so later however, Page and Cairns returned as the highly motivated and reinvigorated Secret Affair.
The song-writing duo’s time as the New Hearts, as brief as it was, was certainly not wasted in terms of both time spent developing their song writing craft and in learning their way around a recording studio. Luckily for them the label had given the young duo seemingly free reign to get in and muck about the studio and where some may have just ended up drunk and sleeping under the piano it wasn’t the case with these kids. For a couple of keen youngsters the opportunity was a true blessing. A number of ideas and songs from this period in fact ended up as Secret Affair titles.
Secret Affairs’ career prior to their extended lay-off in the early 1980s is definitely one for the history books (try Garry Bushell’s new Time for Action, the Mod Revival 1978-1981 published by Countdown Books). The Importance the group played in the Mod resurgence of the late 70s and early 80s and the three albums they released on their I-Spy imprint (through Arista) helped them to build a large fan base which, it certainly would seem, has remained loyal and even grown in the years since – thanks in no small part I think to the many variations and generational discoveries of all things “mod” that has gone on since the band’s last release Business As Usual back in 1982.
After a couple of reunion gigs and some limited recording back at the beginning of the ‘00s Page and Cairns decided to give a re-vamped line up another go. So here we are now with a healthy schedule of tour dates, a brand spankin’ new album that is – in my humble opinion – easily as good, if not better, than anything they had previously released, and a fan base that has remained loyal and even continued to grow. My suggestion would be – don’t miss ‘em if they come to your town and be sure to grab a copy of the new Soho Dreams CD from your local retailer.
I had previously interviewed Dave for my Mohair Sweets webzine a number of years ago (around the time of the Scala show DVD release) and so it was very nice to catch up with him again. You’ll have to pardon the guitar nerd stuff but I’ve always rated Dave very highly as a guitarist and so I’m always keen to see what he’s using for guitars and the like.
Here we go… The Interview
01. Does it really feel like 30 years since the last Secret Affair album?
Yes it does! A lot of life has passed by since Secret Affair disbanded so it’s really quite extraordinary that we have released a new album on I-SPY Records and are back on tour in the UK right now.
02. Could you tell me a bit about the new line-up and how you came to make the decision on the membership?
Ian Page and I have always put together a band around us from the beginning and the current line-up is a mix of old and new members, with some players dropping out for various reasons and having to be replaced and come highly recommended through word of mouth.
03. Where was the recording done? Any opinions on the technological advancements since the last Secret Affair album sessions?
We recorded five of the tracks (and I won’t say which ones) at Peer Music’s own studio in London (who are our publishers), five years ago. The other six tracks were recorded at Kore Studios in West London 3 months ago where we had re-recorded ‘Time for Action’ for Save the Children last year. Ian Page produces Secret Affair and does an amazing job and like most bands and artists today he makes great use of Pro Tools software, which for a start, takes so much of the grief out of how recording sessions were 30 years ago.
04. Were you able to capture much of the musicians playing together or did scheduling require you to grab guys when you could and such?
We rehearsed the last six songs at length with Ian Page as MD – which had just been written by Ian and I – and so it was all very fresh and exciting but with the recording session coming up at Kore Studios it did get a bit tense getting it right…
Ian is incredible in his vision of how the production is going to sound and knows all the overdubs he is going to need prior to the recording session, a talent I sadly lack so there is no mucking about or debate in the studio, it’s like an industrial process with Ian producing – he’s a much underrated producer in my opinion and should be producing other acts.
05. You and I both like to talk guitars and stuff so – do tell! What did you use on the sessions guitar and amp wise and what are you using live now for the most part?
I used my 1968 Tele which I bought for £165 pounds in 1976 having worked as a student in a nursery growing carnations and roses in industrial greenhouses – I’ll never forget it because it was the hottest and sunniest summer we have ever had in the UK that I can remember and while all my college chums were basking in the sunshine, I was sweating under the glass of the greenhouses and up to my neck in pesticides as a summer job and at the end of it I was determined to buy that damned guitar. In a funny sort of way, I have to chuckle that my Tele has been with me longer than any girlfriend and is the only possession that has been by my side all these years so every time I play it I’m reminded of all those memories, good and bad. Funny thing is that when I bought it, it was a relatively new guitar and now it’s a classic and long after I have gone it’ll be a vintage and hopefully in the hands of another player who can enjoy it… but I ain’t going any time soon!
I also used my Guild D55 acoustic with a slide on the Ry Cooderish track, ‘Lotus Dream’. This guitar is beautiful and hand-picked for me by an old friend at Fender (who own Guild). It’s a dreadnought series guitar built to the same 1950s spec in antique sunburst and sounds like heaven to me and walks all over the overpriced and over rated Gibson acoustics – only a top of the range Martin could top it.
Amp wise I have a beautiful old tweed Fender Hot Rod Deville combo (2 x 12) which was a gift from Fender UK and it is a real one off. I crank it up with a lot of gain and it’s as sweet as anything with a tone that only a classic Fender amp can deliver. I have a Fender Hot Rod deluxe combo in reserve that’s pretty pokey too.
Effects wise I use:
1. The amazing Tech 21 Boost D.L.A. pedal that gives you classic slap back delay (and all multiples) but with a powerful pre amp boost for lead work. 30 years ago I had a couple of Roland Chorus Echo units with real tape echo but when I went back to hiring them in a few years back they kept breaking down because you can’t get the original tape anymore and the tape the hire companies use gets jammed up so this little box is incredible!
2. Boss Chorus Ensemble pedal – for that classic old fashioned chorus that you can hear on the original SA albums.
3. Cry Baby Wah Wah – I just got the new switchless Cry Baby which is sprung and not operated by switch and has a kick in pre amp button for extra level and true by-pass- I can’t tell you how cool this pedal is…
4. Line 6 wireless system – this is all you need in wireless technology, not expensive and does the job every time.
5. TC Electronics Polytune – this is the first polyphonic tuner on the market and tunes held chords as well as single notes and true by-pass too – bloody amazing when you think about the Conn strobe tuner box which was the best pro tuner on the market 30 years ago (and somebody nicked it from my dressing room one night, such a shame).
That’s all I use pedal wise but I’m in the less is more camp when it comes to pedal boards and frankly if you can’t plug a guitar into a valve amp and kick up a fuss then no amount of pedals are going to help you.
06. I know too that when the band was in Japan a while back you picked up a Telecaster there. Any experiences of guitar shopping – or otherwise touristy – in Japan? And the gigs? Any surprises there?
Secret Affair played Japan for the first time back in 2010 and I flew into Tokyo without a guitar with the intention of buying a Fender Japan Telecaster and playing it at the shows. The guitar stores in Ochanomizu Street are pure guitar porn. I was after a 1952 re-issue until I picked one up and found the neck so thick I couldn’t play it, but then that is how Leo Fender started and the necks got thinner going into the sixties. So I opted for a 1962 re-issue, ebony with a rosewood neck and USA vintage pick-ups. Let me tell you, the Japanese Fender boys make guitars so close to the American Fender custom shop models that they aren’t allowed to export them so I’m just as happy with a Fender Japan guitar than an overpriced US original.
We played two nights at the same club in Tokyo and you can’t beat flying into Japan, hunting down a guitar the night of the gig with my tour manager (Andrew Gilbert) and flying home with it. Every time I pick it up I think of Tokyo and that’s what guitars are all about, memories – if a guitar doesn’t have a history it probably isn’t worth playing.
07. Well if those answers don’t get the guitar pervs goin’ then nothing will. Back to the album, the industry has changed so much since the last Secret Affair album so what are the plans in terms of getting physical copies in the hands of the people and what is I Spy’s plan for download, video and all the rest?
Ian Page and I have revived our I-SPY Record label and we are now distributed by Code 7/Plastic Head in the UK who are best indie guys to be with. I have also done a worldwide digital deal with them so we should already be available on all digital download platforms. In the UK we got HMV store approval so we are on the racks at HMV record stores across the UK and thru the website: www.hmv.com – which is great news.
08. Don’t suppose you guys play “Teenage Anthem” do you? Do you sometimes think about those early New Hearts days and the explosion of “punk”?
No we don’t I’m afraid but we did play ‘Love’s Just a Word’ in Dublin one night a few years ago! I never think about Punk at all but there have been some great documentaries recently about those times and the American connection and it kind of makes a lot more sense about how false so much of it was and the people manipulating it behind the scenes. But then who cares?
09. I’m always curious about folk’s locales and day to day stuff. Got any fave spots in your neighbourhood for a quiet breakfast, lunch or coffee? Feel free to keep ‘em secret cause I know how a nice spot can suddenly be ruined. Maybe more just what you like about them if you want to keep the name quiet.
I’m always on the road and traveling but The Alpino Cafe in Chapel Street Market is a real gem and I lunch there most days when at home in Islington. It’s run by a lovely old retired Italian couple and their son who does the cooking. They present amazing Italian dishes for less than a tenner and now word has got round you can’t get a table at lunchtime so keep to yourself OK? I reckon I know most of the classic pubs in the City and East London so too many to mention.
10. I know that you spent some time in Memphis. Not too sure how many Secret Affair fans know about this. Any lasting impressions or musical influences you find have crept in to your style as a result? Ian (Page) mentions being a massive Otis Redding fan so I wondered too if you felt compelled to do some more in-depth historical searching and the like while you were there?
I worked for Gibson Guitars for over 9 years back in the 90s and was transferred to Memphis back in 1998. I lived downtown in an art deco apartment overlooking the Mississippi river and had some classic Gibson guitars littering my apartment. It was on the banks of the river that I wrote the guitar parts to ‘Lotus Dream’ on our new album. During my time there I got up onstage in one of the Beale Street bars and played the blues with Preston Shannon and Blind Mississippi Morris playing a classic 335, and on Christmas day too!
11. I mentioned Ian and I just finished reading his very entertaining self-interview on the Secret Affair site (interview). I must say it filled in some of the years in between albums quite nicely. He mentions the aborted P.P. Arnold session which sounds like it was very frustrating but I wonder if there were any other artists you would really love to get into the studio with?
I have made two other albums since Secret Affair in the 80s and had great players like drummer Steve Feronne, bassist Nathan East and keyboard supremo Richard Cottle playing on my records which was terrific (‘The Flag’, Scotti Bros/CBS 1986 & ‘Walk On Fire’, MCA Records 1989). Artists? Too many to mention.
12. How is the tour going? Are the audiences reacting well to the new material?
The tour is going great and new material is going down very well which is very encouraging and drags us back out of the pit of just being a nostalgia act for a nostalgic audience.
13. I have to say Dave that I think the new album is really incredible. Ian seems to have really pushed himself and worked incredibly hard at the phrasing and tone of his vocals. I’m really impressed.
Thanks, I’m glad you like it! Ian’s vocals on the new album are excellent in my opinion, there is a definite maturity and depth to his voice that I guess comes with age and experience that adds an additional quality and texture to his performance.
14. On Secret Affair’s previous records the piano sometimes played an important role but the use of various keyboard and organ sounds really added to the sound. Who’s responsible for the various textures and ideas there?
Ian has always played the keyboards on our recordings but in addition to the various keyboard parts on the record we had guest Hammond player, Andy Fairclough, delivering some fantastic Hammond playing – Andy is one of that rare breed of Hammond specialists and not just a keyboard player ‘who can play a bit of Hammond’ if required…
Ian as producer has it all mapped out in his head what the overdubs are going to be prior to going into the studio which is essential if you are pushed for time as always, I just turn up and try and play the best guitar I can on the day.
Many thanks to Dave for taking the time to do this in between tour dates and his busy days getting the new album out.
Also thanks too to TrACEy Wilmot for her help getting the interview together.
Secret Affair: www.secretaffair.info
Photos by: TrACEy Wilmot and Secret Affair’s Fans