Interview with Miles Tredinnick (aka Riff Regan) of the band ‘LONDON’.
Eyeplug: The band was many years removed from your first reunion gig so how did things feel after the first run through? Had the fellows done their homework?
Miles: Well it was Steve Voice’s idea to get the band going again. We hadn’t been in touch for 25 years when he contacted me and asked if I was up for a reunion. I was working as a comedy writer in London and he was living in Hampshire teaching guitar and doing session work. The initial idea was to reform the original band but Dave Wight the guitarist lived too far away and Jon Moss was too busy playing with Culture Club so Steve found two excellent musicians that he had heard playing in various local punk bands – guitarist Hugh O’Donnell and drummer Colin Watterston. Hugh worked (and still does) for Robert Fripp, designing his CDs and promotional material and Colin’s a printer. Both handy trades to have in the ‘London’ camp!
The first rehearsal was in a disused skittle alley next to a pub outside Andover in December 2007. Steve had a practice first with just Hugh and Colin and basically, they nailed all the old London songs from the ‘Animal Games’ LP and the ‘Summer of Love’ EP and then I joined them. It sounded good straight away and reminded me of the first rehearsal the original band had in 1976. Very tight and punchy but melodic too. There were no new songs then as Steve and I hadn’t written any. In fact, when we played our very first gig at the 12 Bar Club in Soho’s Denmark Street a few weeks later I remember saying to the audience at the start ‘Hi we’re London and the good news is NO NEW SONGS!. We knew that everyone just wanted to hear all the old faves like ‘Everyone’ís a Winner’ and ‘Friday On My Mind’ anyway so it went down well and besides how often do you go and see your favourite band and they bore you to death by playing endless new songs youíve never heard of! It was at least a year before we started playing any new material and that eventually ended up on the REBOOT album. We were amazed at the reception we got with the new band. It was just like we had never been away. Hugh and Colin fitted in really well and Steve’s bass playing was always impressive. We were lucky that we got offered some great gigs as well as a slot at the 2008 Rebellion Festival at Blackpool. London was reborn!
Eyeplug: The late great Chris Townson did the Animal Games cover. What do you remember about him and the cover design?
Miles: I never met Chris Townson personally. What happened was this: When the 12 inch ‘Summer of Love/Friday on my Mind’ EP was released the band was horrified at the artwork. We didn’t like it one bit and all trooped round to Simon Napier-Bell’s apartment in Mayfair to try and stop the record being released. Jon told him that he thought the back of the sleeve looked like a cornflakes packet! There was a huge argument, but of course, it was too late and the record was already on sale. Word of our dislike for the sleeve got back to MCA and it was more than coincidental that our next single ‘Animal Games’ came out in a plain MCA standard record sleeve (although it got picture sleeves in other countries). By this time (December 1977) the band was breaking up anyway and Jon left to join the Damned. We weren’t even sure that MCA was going to put out the ‘Animal Games’ album but they did in February 1978. Simon Napier-Bell had a sleeve designed that showed dead animals in a slaughterhouse. He was trying to do a Beatles ‘butcher’ cover type thing but the MCA bosses were appalled and told him to go away and come back with something a little less controversial.
So he got Chris Townson to design the sleeve as he knew him from when he managed ‘John’s Children’ the band that Chris was in with Marc Bolan. The front cover has this big ape smashing all the band’s equipment up (and other members of the band) and the back showed the ape signing a contract with a couple of wide boy managers. Years later Danny Morgan who was Simon Napier-Bell’s assistant and the guy who had first seen us play told me that the ape was meant to be me and the two figures signing him up were Danny and Simon! No-one really knew this at the time but the cartoons do look like Simon and Danny from that period and of course, I continued to be managed by them both after LONDON broke up so I probably did sign a new contract. If so, I think they chose the wrong member of the band. Now if they had signed up Jon Moss! Whether this cover had been originally intended for the Gorillas album you mention I do not know.
Eyeplug: I imagine that with the London Punk Singles collection out it introduced a whole new legion of fans to London and many of them wouldn’t have been around during your brief lifetime as a band. Did you notice that and were you surprised by it at all?
Miles: Yes, the CD release did introduce to a lot of new fans particularly overseas. Even after all this time, there is still a big punk movement and people still want to eat/breath/sleep it. We were surprised when Captain Oi records released the CD though as the original LONDON only ever recorded 14 songs so itís great that you can buy them all on one CD including the alternative album version of ‘Everyone’s a Winner’. So thank you, Mark Brennan, at Captain Oi!
Eyeplug: The Reboot album seems to be a natural progression from where the band left off in the late 70s. Besides the odd gig do you see the band doing a new album or playing any gigs further afield than in the UK?
Miles: Well the reaction to REBOOT took us all by surprise as generally all the reviews were pretty good and that was a new one on us! We are very proud of it but it wasnít an easy album to make. We started recording it in a small studio but the recordings got accidentally erased so we had to start all over again from scratch. We then recorded the new backing tracks on a laptop. The vocals and overdubs were added at Robert Frippís DGM studio and then finally Martin Bullimore mixed it and he did a great job. Very loud! Hugh did all the artwork and finally Dizzy Holmes released it on his punk Bin Liner label, an offshoot of his Detour Records label.
We wanted it to be as varied as possible and included a ballad STANDING ALONE on it that had trumpet from a Mellotron that Hugh spotted stuck in the corner. We later learned that it was the same Mellotron that the Beatles had used on the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ sessions.
There are some great songs on REBOOT in my opinion. I particularly like LIKE IT NEVER HAPPENED which Steve wrote – it’s like a laundry list of things he found cool and GET OUT OF LONDON where I name-check the band. It was something Ian Hunter used to do a lot with Mott the Hoople and I always liked that as I was a big MTH fan back in the day. 77 DREAMS is another favourite as the band goes psychedelic! WHEN THE NIGHT FALLS is a good choice as the opener as its popular when we play live. Yes we want to make a new album but wheels in the LONDON camp turn very slowly (34 years between the first and second albums!) Steve and I are writing some new songs so hopefully we’ll get them out there at some stage. As far as gigs go, we’ve played some dates in Europe but weíve never played Canada, the USA or Australia. There was to be a LONDON tour of Japan a few years ago but sadly it got canceled at the last minute. We still play the occasional gig in the UK though and we’ve been invited to play the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool for the fifth time this summer. Not only is it good to perform at it’s also a chance to see some great bands on the other stages.
Eyeplug: You mention having the chance to play with a bunch of great bands at the Rebellion festivals so who in your opinion has been able to maintain their credibility and greatness and are there any current bands that interest you?
Miles: Well I particularly like the older bands, the ones from my generation. Public Image Ltd, UK Subs, 999, Chelsea, Stiff Little Fingers, Buzzcocks. One of the best shows I saw was Slaughter and the Dogs, I had never seen them before and they were amazing. The Damned are always highly entertaining of course. Also Goldblade, Bad Religion, and Ruts DC.
Eyeplug: Something that seemingly never gets talked about and that I’ve always been curious about – and I don’t know if you remember at all – is how much a typical gig might have paid back in the late 70s. Any recollections?
Miles: Now that’s an interesting question but sadly I really can’t remember. Maybe £25 for a support slot at Dingwalls? But of course, that would have been worth a lot more then than now.
Eyeplug: Could you tell me a little bit about your solo album MILESTONES and how that came about?
Miles: The MILESTONES album happened simply because I had written some songs on my own (as well as with Steve Voice and a couple of other writers), that weren’t really LONDON style songs. They were more singer/songwriter than punk but I still wanted to record them so in 2015 I got together with Steve, Colin Watterston (LONDON drummer) and Steve Pearce on keyboards. We just wanted to record the album as simply as possible so we used a small studio, Railside in Salisbury, and knocked it out in five days flat. Steve Voice produced it. It’s as different to the LONDON sound as it’s possible to get and a lot of the songs are very personal to me about trust and betrayal in relationships etc. One of the songs HARD HEARTS DON’T CRY was a new stripped-down version of a song that I originally released on Epic records as a single in the 80s. There’s another one called WHO DIDN’T WANT TO BE IN A PUNK ROCK BAND? that looks back at the 1977 scene very much tongue-in-cheek. We even covered a rare Beatles B-side I’LL GET YOU which I’d always liked. I love the sound of the album and hope others do too. It’s very minimalist and bare and that’s exactly what we were after. It’s funny that with the exception of Steve Pearce on keys, it ended up being made by all the members of LONDON (except for Hugh who was unavailable as he lived in New York). But it wouldn’t have felt right to have released it as a LONDON album so we put it out as a Riff Regan one. And of course, the name MILESTONES is a pun as my real name is Miles. We’re now thinking of doing another album as we all enjoyed working on it. It was a fast job; it was like get it made, get it out there. So in a way it had the punk ethos.
Eyeplug: Let’s get back to the current state of the punk scene, you would have been in your early 20s back in the late 70s. Do you find that the current crop of punk enthusiasts in that age bracket relate in the same way now as they did then?
Miles: Well the punk fans of today have such a huge choice, don’t they? They have all the best of oldskool punk as well as all the new stuff. I’m not as up to date as I would like to be on today’s bands but for me, the scene (especially in the UK) in 1976/7 was best. It was incredibly accessible and easy to get into. Once the punk thing got properly into gear there were gigs every night in every major town (and in central London you’d often visit three venues a night to see your favourite acts), everyone was following the same scene in the weekly music papers like the NME, Sounds and the Melody Maker. The only person playing stuff on the radio initially was John Peel but that changed as the punk bands started getting in the charts. It was exciting and it was immediate. The most surprising thing was that it didn’t last as long as everyone thought it would. Disco took over the charts and most of the punk bands that did make it worldwide were re-branded as straight rock acts – like the Police, the Pretenders, Elvis Costello, the Clash, Blondie, Boomtown Rats etc.
Eyeplug: OK I’m guessing that at this point LONDON isn’t in it for the money. Because as far as I know, the gig recession has hit the UK just as hard as everywhere else in the world. And If indeed then that is the case then what is the motivation and how would one come up with the dough to do another record?
Miles: Well pledging is one way to finance a new record and some pretty big bands have done it including: The Damned, Hugh Cornwell, and Chelsea. It is something we might do in the future but fortunately one of the advantages of the modern digital age is that recording can be done quite cheaply and of a very high quality. Lots of bands make their albums on laptops these days. But the nice thing about pledging is that your fans can have some direct input into the band and have their name in the credits etc. Be a part of the band and all that! I guess everyone carries on putting out new albums because it’s still really exciting and one of the things that got you excited about being in a band in the first place (that and playing live). It takes a bit of effort to come up with some new songs (although there’s no shortage of material in this crazy world) and get it out there but well worth it in my opinion. I love it when bands like The Pretenders, Squeeze, the Stranglers, and Elvis Costello bring out a new album but having said that LONDON are notoriously slow at releasing stuff. There was a 34 year gap between our first and second albums!! But that was because real life intervened! Everyone knows how difficult it is to make any kind of financial return with a band. You are really reliant on merchandise sales whenever you play live. And the simple fact is that there are too many bands and too few venues (in the UK anyway). And if that’s not bad enough, loads of clubs have been closing down over the last few years so it’s even more difficult to get gigs. And that’s a shame because there are lots of good bands around – old and new – and they just can’t find places to play.
Eyeplug: Been a while since we talked Miles and since then LONDON has played the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool. How did it go for you guys? Did you end up making cab fare? And any bands you got to see that impressed you?
Miles: Yes, we enjoyed playing Rebellion in Blackpool this year. It was our fifth appearance and our second in the world-famous Opera House where Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles and Bob Dylan have all trod the boards. For Steve, it was his first time playing this theatre as last year he couldn’t make it due to family problems and we had used Rick De’Ath as a stand-in on bass. It was a great show and more people seemed to be in the audience than the previous year. It was also the first time that weíve ever played on the first night of the festival but if anything it was more exciting. Didn’t catch many other acts this time as sadly we had to leave early but did see Toyah as well as the Zips (both also playing the Opera House stage). Steve and I also did an hour-long ‘London special’ interview for Danny Mac’s ‘Testifying Time Radio Show’ which was fun.
Many thanks to Miles (Riff) for taking time out to do this interview.
Please visit the band’s pages for updates, CD’s and the like.
LONDON MAIN WEB SITE
London: Reboot (Bin Liner/Detour Records)
Considering it was thirty-plus years since London had called it a day this release is nothing short of remarkable. Fair dues only Riff (vocals) and Steve (bass) remain from the original band, but they’ve managed to keep the feel and the sound of the late seventies line-up and recordings. Well, maybe it is a tad more ‘hi -fi’ compared to the technology of the punk era but, the bite, spite and spit (only joking) are fully intact. New boys Hugh O’Donnell (guitar, replacing Dave Wight) and Colin Watterston (drums, replacing Jon Moss) are a perfect fit. O’Donnell possesses an absolute classic ’77 era guitar tone that is equal parts Thunders/Jones with the main vein buzz-saw of countless others like Marco Pirroni, Steve Diggle et al. Most impressive. Kicking off with the Creation-esque ‘When the Night Falls’ the band then tackles – topically at least – sexuality, failed (and questionable) relations, success, failure, nostalgia and celebrity with musical smatterings of acoustic, garage/freakbeat riffage and plenty of good old three (or possibly four) chord punk. Y’know like the kind they used to make back when London first appeared on the scene. Nice. (11 tracks. 30 minutes.) BUY HERE
Riff Regan: Milestones (Beach Cafe Records)
This is London vocalist Riff Regan’s solo record. Riff is accompanied by the members of London (less guitarist Hugh O’Donnell) but in this instance, it is largely acoustic-based relationship rock-balladry and it sure sounds like he has had his ups and downs with the ladies. The only non-relationship cut here is ‘Who Didn’t Want to be in a Punk Rock Band?’ that is simple, nostalgic and just a little bit silly ñ in a good-natured kind of way. (12 tracks. 38 minutes.) BUY HERE