Formed in Wales in 1986, The Darling Buds were an essential part of UK Indie music, along with their more slightly commercially successful contemporaries The Primitives, they also shared a pretty and stylish Blonde female lead singer in common. After releasing their debut single on their own label, the group signed to Native in 1987. They received a lot of airplay on John Peel’s Radio 1 show, and were championed in the press by Chris Roberts of the Melody Maker. At their peak in the later 80s and early 90s, the band were signed up by by Epic and had moderate chart success with a top thirty single and album. They even managed a few appearances on Top Of The Pops. Andrea Lewis found some time in her hectic schedule to speak to Eyeplug.
01 You formed circa 1986 near Newport in Wales, what brought you all together?
02 What about your moniker?
The Darling Buds comes from a Shakespeare sonnet. It’s also an H.E Bates novel “The Darling buds of May”. This was on a bookshelf at Harley’s house and on every page you open it says “Pop said” so this is what we called our first Album.
03 What influences, both musical and beyond helped to shape you and your sound and outlook?
I started singing in an all girl band at school, and this was very 60’s influenced with lots of harmony’s and very melodic. Obvious influences were the Beatles and I also loved Elvis, The Smiths, Cocteau twins. Meeting Harley and Paul introduced me to wider range of music, The Velvet Underground, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Jesus and Mary Chain. We all shared a love of indie stuff, David Lynch films and listening to John Peel.
04 What were your early live shows like and what milestones do you remember?
Our first gig was at TJ’s in Newport with Harley, Simon, myself and a drum machine. Chris Macdonagh was the promotor of the gig and he loved it and subsequently went on to replace Simon on Bass. Our second gig was with him and we supported The Butthole Surfers in Newport Centre – I remember watching them with my jaw dropped open, I’d never seen anything like the Buttholes, cymbles were lit with lighter fluid and the flames were touching the ceiling!
In our early gigs technically we were all over the place but the atmosphere was always great and I think our strong following, who named themselves the skullf**k crew, (an anti-twee moniker) came from seeing us live. We were shambolic and usually quite pissed but we did put our heart and soul into it and that probably came across. You couldn’t go to a Buds gig without shed loads of ripped up confetti, fans would turn up with bin liners full of the stuff. I remember when we played the Marquee there was so much confetti on stage – I dropped the mic and couldn’t find it under all the stuff, it was ferociously feeding back and the crowd loved it – however Sony didn’t and we had a telling off from them! It was exciting playing around the release of “Pop said”, we were selling-out places like the town and country club in London and did some memorable gigs in Sheffield, Manchester and also in Europe – Spain in particular. This was at the height of our indie success, and once the bubble burst here we toured the States. This was also an amazing experience, all venues were different and you didn’t really know what to expect, some small quirky little theatres and also big venues that were tied into local radio promotions – like in San Francisco.
05 The term ‘Indie’ back then was a genuine DIY arty mindset – it became a ‘style genre’ eventually which sadly housed clichés in abundance?
Yes I kind of get what you mean but for me it just typifies the mind-set of the time around when we started out. You were “independent” from the mainstream and that created a new feel in music. I can’t really keep up with all that’s going on in music now, to me its either good or not.
06 Lyrically speaking, what made you reach for the pen and paper?
Probably because none of the other members fancied having a go! When songs were written, Harley would come up with a guitar riff and I would come up with the melodies and then write the lyrics after. For Pop Said it all just came really easily and they are very naïve sounding lyrics and that was it really – more about getting a good catchy melody.
07 The Major labels eventually found you and you signed with Sony in 1988, what was that experience like?
At the time it was quite scary, we didn’t want it to seem like we were ‘selling out’, these days you wouldn’t bat an eyelid about a band signing a major deal. To us signing to a major label meant that we could afford to come off the dole and actually go and tour or record material with them as the bank. The trouble is a major label wants ‘hits’ and to re-coop the money that they’ve spent on you so the pressure is on. I think we were naïve and we didn’t have a good manager around us at the time to advise or help us deal with the transition in a positive way.
08 What were the melodic, atmospheric and style influences on your output throughout the 1980s and 1990s? What shaped the sound references?
I think most of the infuences on Pop said were covered in the earlier question (no. 3), we were also influenced by what was around at the time. We recorded Pop said at Greenhouse Studios with Pat Collier who was working with the Wonderstuff. Also, My Bloody Valentine were making their record there too, so you can’t help being influenced and inspired by other bands and what the producer brings to the plate. By the time we recorded our second Album ‘Crawdaddy’ the whole Manchester thing was happening, which must have influenced us as we all felt the need to get little groovier in our writing. The brilliant Stephen Street was on board and we all got on really well in the studio and loved his influence in our new sound. I think the songs are still very catchy Buds tunes and even though they have a dance feel to some of them they still work well played live.
The sound of Erotica was definitely a return to a more heavy sound like ‘If I Said’ our first single, and also a grungier feel as was the sound around at the time. I think some of the melodies have a 60’s feel and the vocals are more raw and less double-tracked. On this record we also wrote songs with different band members, Chris Macdonagh and Paul Watkins were involved and that broadens the sound influences again.
09 Your back catalogue is quite diverse what are your personal highs and lows?
For a long time I couldn’t listen to any Buds songs, and I still don’t have any of the records around. But since rehearsing for the forthcoming Borderline show and also my kids wanting to hear stuff I have listened to them and it hasn’t been quite as painful as I thought it would… discovering old b-sides or rare tracks is pleasantly nostalgic as it takes you back to a particular time… like working with Jon Lee or The Boo Radleys. Doing the John Peel sessions was a particular high as we all looked up to him so much, and when he played our first single on his show we couldn’t believe it. There is also a bunch of demo songs that were recorded in New York with Don Flemming that I’d like to get hold of.
10 Where would you point a modern day newbie fan as a good place to start The Darling Buds journey of discovery?
At the beginning! Cherry Red re-released ‘Pop Said’ with extra tracks a couple of years ago. ‘Crawdaddy’ and ‘Erotica Plays’ EP, also the 3rd Album ‘Erotica’ has some of my favorite songs on it.
11 Was the comings and goings of band members over the years difficult to maintain focus and momentum?
Not really, the band was always very close and new members would bring a lot of alternative and fresh ideas to the group. The core of the band was pretty strong between us all and kept us focused. The momentum seemed to falter with the business side of things.
12 You developed a loyal and in-the-know following from around the World over the years, what places stick out in particular?
Like I already mentioned, we did some memorable gigs in Sheffield, Manchester and also in Europe – Spain in particular and the American Tour holds great memories.
13 Does every band have an in-built ‘shelf life’ and does that add pressure to your own expectations?
Unless you are incredibly unique in what you do, then I think you do have a shelf life. Certainly the more manufactured bands have a shelf life, and then there are bands that have been going for years, play proper live gigs and have built a huge following that have longevity. We never claimed to be the most original or unique band, but we did have some bloody catchy songs, and our gigs were always good fun and well attended, so maybe if we’d kept going we would have stood the test of time, who knows… You have to be true to yourself as a performer and at the time of splitting up we were doing what everyone else wanted us to do and not enough of what we wanted to do – and that’s not how I wanted it to be.
14 Tell us about the process that lead to you splitting up The Darling Buds and what you all then did?
Well, at the time we were all based in LA, trying to write songs and grab the odd bit of studio time. I don’t think Sony in London really knew what to do with us and so we were hoping to be dropped from them and go back to a small label, but the Stateside Sony were really positive about developing us. To cut a long story short nobody could agree on the business side of things and we were stuck in limbo! All of us grew tired of not being able to play live or just move forward and after months of this I decided to call it a day. Since then I’ve been involved in Theatre, TV and radio, and after having my first baby set up a children’s Theatre Company with my husband (Actor Jamie Jarvis). The boys all have proper day jobs, Harley is a nutritionist, Chris is a talented sound engineer, Matt is an Engineer and Paul now happily works in IT.
15 You reformed the Darling Buds in 2010, why there and then?
Yes we reformed for TJ’s in the square, this was a tribute gig for our friend John Siccolo who owned TJ’s. He passed away suddenly and being quite a legend in the Welsh music scene a memorial gig was arranged. I immediately wanted to be involved, unfortunately Harley and Chris declined, but Paul and Matt along with friends Julian on bass and Eric Stams on drums we managed to do it.
16 Technology, the Internet, Reality TV, Talent Shows in primetime, it’s all had a dramatic affect on the Music Industry?
Yes I agree, technology is amazing and it’s exciting that bands can get their material heard without having to sign a record deal or feel compromised in their integrity, its more in the control of the bands/writers. But also, the internet is saturated with anyone and everyone promoting themselves whether they are any good or not and this is a bit of a pain in the ass but there’s still no denying the internets’ potential for artists. X factor, Britain’s got talent, the Voice, aren’t really my cup of tea. We are constantly bombarded with manufactured mediocrity. Its not the contestants fault so much but the fact that they think it’s the only route to being successful. I work with children and I’m always telling them to stay away from these types of shows, I encourage them to learn their craft/instrument/voice/songwriting, and also to enjoy the moment, have fun as a performer and to think outside the box a bit. Of course if one of our pupils did take that route I’d give them all the advise and support I could.
17 Tell us about the up and coming show that you have planned?
Yep, next April 19th at the Borderline in London. For me it’s come at the right time, since we did the TJ’s in the square gig I really missed singing, and any bitter feeling I had towards the music industry had long left me. So I’m really excited and up for having a laugh with the boys again and hopefully some fans and old familiar faces will be there to make it special. Get Tickets Here!
18 Are you writing any new material at present?
To find the time would be a good start, its taken me long enough reply to this interview! With my three children and other work I hardly find the time to do any Buds stuff – our last rehearsal was in my kitchen while I was dishing out tea!
19 What’s in store for The Darling Buds down the line? A movie or book perhaps?
Yes definitely, an epic blockbuster!
20 Are there any modern bands that you would namecheck that you feel are ‘doing the business’ as it were?
Mostly I listen to good old Radio 6 – Saw The Fleetfoxes at a festival last year they were great and The Savages were amazing live.
21 Can you tell us a joke?
There’s music coming out of my printer… think it must be jammin’ again!
Get Records & Info
Next London Show –
April 19th 2014 at the Borderline in London.
Get Tickets Here!