Lester Square talks to Alex Eyeplug (Scenester)

Interview with Lester Square 1/5/18

The Scenester recently grabbed a coffee and a chat with Lester Square to chat about his life in music and the arts and his up and coming new LP  Serotonin by The Fifty Guitars of Lester Square, here is what he had to say (with a full review as a second part coming very soon!)

Pre-order of Serotonin. The moment the album is released you’ll get unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus a high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more. ORDER IT HERE

What first got you into music, specifically forming a band?

Going right back, I was completely unfamiliar with any popular music at all, until about the age of fourteen, when a friend of mine of the same age lay me down and put his speakers either side of my head and played me, back to back, ‘Electric Ladyland’ by Hendrix, which had just come out. It was absolutely explosive, after that, I just lived and breathed electric music.

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It would have been just before then, that the Rolling Stones played in Hyde Park, a cousin visited England and said ‘Do you want to come up the West End?’ and we went up the West End, and he said, ‘I’m going to a concert in Hyde Park’ and I said ‘I’m not really interested in music, I think I’ll just wander around Oxford Street and meet you later’, later discovering that that was the Stones concert. I am very thankful that I am just old enough to have been to the Isle of Wight Festival where I saw Hendrix and The Doors and all those people. I did just get in under the wires.

Which other artists did you like when you first got into music?

I suppose I tended towards Americana; The Association; I think The Byrds are fantastic, that jangle experience, when I discovered that I couldn’t play like Hendrix, and my guitar playing was necessarily less complex, I discovered the delights of people like Nokie Edwards of The Ventures and Hank Marvin. I liked the fact that they picked out a melody, but at the same time, I loved the expertise of psychedelic, extemporised stuff. I loved the fact that The Beatles didn’t know what their next release would be like. The thing that fascinates me about The Beatles is the tension between the characters and the fact that individually, they were not nearly as great as the sum of their parts, and I have valued the fact that musical collaboration makes you more than the sum of your parts ever since.

Mayo Thompson (Red Crayola) was our first producer who had been associated with the Art and Language group. Gary Lucas the Beefheart guitarist is a Facebook friend, although Zoot Horn Rollo was more of an influence. Other influences, some rather obvious, Buffalo Springfield and offshoots, Love, Zappa’s early stuff, early Floyd, The Animated Egg, Harvey Mandel’s Cristo Redentor, Mort Garson’s Zodiac, White Noise Electric Storm, anything by John Barry Bernard Herrmann or Morricone, Eno and Manzara’s solo stuff, Neu, The American Breed. More recently The Eels, Kristen Hersh… I could go on.

Which of today’s artists do you like if any?

I cannot get on with rap music at all, and producers like Rick Rubin, and his mission statement that he wants to strip away all melody. I mean, what’s left? Fortunately, I have teenage children who have exquisite taste, artists like Charlotte Gainsbourg; it made me weep, it was so beautiful.

If you had to describe your music to someone who had not heard you before, what would you say?

Do you want the long answer or the short answer? Articles about The Monochrome set will say ‘It’s so difficult to classify, they don’t fit into any scene or musical box’ but I came to the band from an art background, whereas Bid is a consummate musician. I tend to view music as sound sculpture, so I view the history of where I lock in as art history. We started in the late 70’s just at the end of what was in artistic terms, modernism, the whole point is to strip things back, and the post-modernist period where all rules were thrown up in the air and double coding was the key to what people did, mixing and matching styles, collaborative work rather than the ideas of the romantic individual. We started on the cusp of the whole post-modern period, an artistic timeline rather than a musical one. That’s evidenced by the fact that our first producer, (Mayo Thompson) who was assigned to us by Rough Trade’s Geoff Travis, took our first single, and said ‘I want to get rid of all the drumbeats, I want to get rid of all the counterpoint, I don’t want any double tracking; basically the drummer should use one beat, and everything should be stripped of any kind of effect’ and it was completely counter to anything we were doing. We very quickly released our own demo, because that had everything in it that we wanted to be in it.Bob Sargent eventually did the first album and I wouldn’t fault his fine work. 

Excitement seems to be easier with less technology, we learned from, or we had read about Paul McCartney’s work, and we had tapes going around the studio on spindles, its great fun, the unexpected, and now, you press a button and sound comes out of your mobile phone. It takes the joy of the unexpected away. An iPhone has more capability than The Beatles had at Abbey Road.

Why leave The Monochrome set after so long?

Well, you never really leave The Monochrome Set; it’s like an old gentleman’s club. I did leave for one album back in the 80’s before we all got back together in the 90’s. ‘Never say never.’ I’m the only one with children, that’s the over-riding thing; the need to tour constantly was not so attractive to me. The writing relationship changed over forty years, in that I’m a collaborator, and when we did the first three albums, Bid would write this, and I would write that, and then we would shunt them together. Bid, is a consummate lyricist, probably one of the best of his age. My role was an instrumental one, and over time, we would work separately, and he would add guitar parts to my instrumental, and likewise, I would write guitar hooks or counterpoint to his melody. Then, in the last incarnation, when he had his cerebral hemorrhage, he became incredibly prolific but also the albums thereafter became part of his self-help cure. I’m really happy to go along with that, but it does squeeze out my opportunities for writing. When we played the 40th Anniversary thing at The Lexington the other week, I hadn’t seen Tony Potts for years, and yet there he was, doing projections like we were at the Electric Ballroom in 1980.

I think it’s extraordinary the number of musicians and bands who went to art school, rather than music school, and I just wondered what your take on that is.

I can give my own insight, and maybe that crosses over into many people. I was at Hornsey (College of Art) and that had the seminal Adam and the Ants, it had The Raincoats, it had Heidi Berry, John Ellis, The Vibrators, it had so many people. Adam was doing graphics there. We both arrived for our foundation on the same day, so we met each other right at the start. I went in as a painter and quickly became bored with two dimensions, and so I tried to be a sculptor, and I think I tried to do film work. I think of what I did later, as sound sculpture. In the days of having a full grant, you had all the facilities for poster making and promotion. The band Adam was in before he became Adam, Bazooka Joe, was just the Hornsey Art College band, with the hub of all the socialites in the college. I still enjoy painting, although painting never had tears rolling down my cheeks; it didn’t have the poignancy, the great, emotional tug, simple as that.


You stepped a little outside of the rock field to do some soundtrack work. Was that a conscious decision, or was it ‘right place, right time’?

The fact that things were being picked up from ready-made music made me think that this is something worth exploring. I spent some time writing with Craig Gannon, who does have a big CV of soundtrack work, so I tied myself to his coat-tails a bit, and we wrote some stuff together. The trouble with movies is that someone says ‘They’ve asked for this piece of music for…’ about this instrumental we did together, and got really excited about it, but of course they’re asking lots of other people for stuff, so you’re a very small fish in a very big pond, so I’ve stopped expecting things, but it’s definitely where I come from. They don’t need words, because they create a mood or an atmosphere. I’d be delighted if it (the new CD) was taken up, or if I was given more soundtracks. It’s another example of collaboration, in that you collaborate with actors, directors, to create something that none of you would have expected to start with. There was one that I did in collaboration with Helen McCookerybook and the Tate Gallery (Rhythm and Hues) where we produced an evening based on famous artwork held by the Tate. Some of them were action pieces, some were songs, some were instrumental band pieces, and it tied into my art training. On my new album, on one of the tracks, I invited via Facebook, anyone who was a guitarist in a band, to join in the cacophony of the final track, called Fifty Guitars’. I didn’t get fifty guitars, but I got fifteen guitars.

What songs or arrangements are you most proud of, and why?

I think ‘April Dancer Affair’ was one of my instrumentals on Trinity Road, which is like detective film music and it’s based on the cadences of bagpipe lament. My father was a bagpipe player so I grew up listening to it. Guitars and keyboards just piled in on top. It’s just the most wonderful coming together of musical expertise, of my design. I think ‘Eine Symphony Des Grauens’ is a fantastically precise pop song and the whole song is Bid’s and it’s an example of my own pleasure in providing a succinct little guitar riff that counterpointed it, put the icing on the cake. My favourite period was the album Charade, and those are the most successful pop songs we did. There were five of us in the band at that time, and produced by Toby Robinson, who was I guess like another member of the band. The whole thing just came together, and was a big success.


Serotonin by The Fifty Guitars of Lester Square

Pre-order of Serotonin. The moment the album is released you’ll get unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus a high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more. ORDER IT HERE



Scenester lives in London and Brighton, as time allows. Enjoys music, film, television, books, design and anything else which won’t leave well alone. Old enough to know better.

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