interviews

Rising Star: The Great Escape Festival's Nathalie Von Rotz

The biz’s brightest new talents tell their stories - this week it's the turn of The Great Escape events executive Nathalie Von Rotz. How did you break into the industry? I began working for Swiss Music Export in 2013, advising ...

The Aftershow: The Specials' Lynval Golding

Guitarist and vocalist Lynval Golding was a founding member of The Specials, whose No.1 LP Encore is the first to feature Terry Hall in 39 years. Here, Golding reveals why they imploded, how Ghost Town almost wasn’t a single and what they learned from Bananarama… Encore is a proper Specials album because… “We’ve got our singer back, our real voice, which is Terry Hall. He’s one of the best writers I’ve ever worked with. When it comes to lyrics, he’s just fantastic. So this is a natural follow-up to [1980’s] More Specials.” I had to go through a lot of racism… “But through music we pulled people together. I came to England [aged 13] in 1964 at the height of racism. In Gloucester where I grew up, some of my friends would say, ‘What are you doing playing in a punk band?’ I’d say, ‘You don’t get it man’. I was bringing my culture and we were blending it all together. That’s what I’m proud of, we did pull people together.” Our label Chrysalis didn’t want Ghost Town as a single because… “They thought it was too slow. Somebody said to me, ‘Where’s the ska on the record?’ No, it’s about music, if you listen to More Specials you can see where we were going musically. We’re damn good when it comes to leading people to accept music the way we present it. I grew up in Jamaica but I can still relate to The Clash. That period in the ’70s had bands that really united people like The Equals, a multiracial band that brought people together.” It all went wrong for The Specials when… “We did Ghost Town on Top Of The Pops in 1981 and realised we couldn’t cope any more. It was the peak, we could have cracked America but we decided ‘We’ve got to stop it right here, right now’. We went our separate ways, we didn’t talk to each other for years. It took me five years to get the majority of the band back together. Horace [Panter, bassist] called me the Henry Kissinger of The Specials. The one person I couldn’t get back was Jerry [Dammers]. But in the end, the music is bigger than all of us.” We could have been as rich and famous as U2.... “From a financial point of view, we were stupid – but it wasn’t money that drove The Specials, it was uniting people that drove us. I would have loved for us to have stayed together much longer. But we had to have a break. It was a lot of emotion making our music and going around the world with it.” I feel I’m finally at home on Island Records… “That’s my roots, I was born in Jamaica. When we signed to Chrysalis, we played that night at [London punk venue] The Nashville and got a message from Island Records: ‘Whatever it is, we’ll double it’. I’d have preferred to have been on Island with Bob Marley. But it’s never too late to get to where you want to get to.” My main memory of Fun Boy Three working with Bananarama is… “Learning how to drink. They showed us how to consume alcohol. We had a wonderful time with them, it was great and Siobhan [Fahey] is a wonderful lady. It Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It) just sums it up. We had to do something different as the Fun Boy Three. You can tell there’s humour there. I’m quite proud of all that we’ve done – we opened people’s eyes and had a laugh too.”

Back to school: Inside the return of Busted

Oh my God they’re bringing pizza!” “I can’t believe they’re coming outside…” “Is that them? I think it is!” There’s a clamour on the pavement outside the 100 Club on Oxford Street. The crowd spills into to the bus lane, while across the road, commuters and tourists stream past Foot Locker and The Perfume Shop looking confused. The cause of all the commotion? Busted. Look closely at the crowd and it’s obvious: the name of the guitar-toting boyband who formed as teenagers in the year 2000 is emblazoned on bags, hoodies and T-shirts everywhere. Charlie Simpson, Matt Willis and James Bourne are playing their smallest gigs ever to launch Half Way There, their Gil Norton-produced fourth album that signals a move away from their synthy 2016 comeback Night Driver and a louder incarnation of the poppy riffing that made their name. Not only that, they’re doing three gigs in one night. They finished the first a few minutes ago, an amped-up Willis promising they’d bring “fucking pizza outside for everyone!” Clutching free posters and grinning like they’ve been guzzling laughing gas, the crowd surges upstairs. For anyone wondering, Busted are back… “That was one of the most fun shows we’ve done. I was pretty pissed by the last set as well.” Charlie Simpson is stretched out some weeks later on a leather sofa at Warner Bros HQ, in one of those major label meeting rooms where speakers are improbably huge and the carpet is uber-soft. Willis is next to him; Bourne sits on a chair opposite, the point of the triangle. “No one would have seen Busted in a venue like that, ever,” he says. “It was our smallest gig. It’s awesome, the 100 Club is one of the places I’ve always wanted to play.” Busted find themselves inside Warner towers thanks to their agreement with East West, who are supporting the release of Half Way There. The band stress they have “ultimate control”, and president of Rhino, East West and ADA Dan Chalmers tells Music Week, “It’s a true partnership, they get to work with a great team whilst also retaining control and flexibility.” But we’ll come to their industry tribulations later. Those sweaty comeback shows aren’t going to discuss themselves. “Without being dicks, we bypassed that stage, we didn’t play those clubs, those small venues,” says Willis, his leather jacket creaking as he gesticulates with excitement. The bassist and winner of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of here 2006 is pumped up, permanently. “We played some fucking huge venues straight away, which was amazing.” Bar acoustic showcases for the majors, Busted’s first gig was at the 3,500-capacity Hammersmith Apollo. “We got signed, we got a fucking album out and then we just played massive venues,” says Willis. For Busted, big has always been normal. They have two million-selling albums, 2002’s Busted (1,207,052 sales, according to the Official Charts Company) and 2003’s A Present For Everyone (1,108,928). Both peaked at No.2. Night Driver, released after 11 years apart, has sold 56,373. Year 3000 (553,043) is their biggest single. So were they nervous on stage at the 100 Club, looking down into the whites of their fans’ eyes? Bourne, quiet so far, appears to be on the cusp of replying, but Willis is first to answer. “I wasn’t nervous, we were well rehearsed, well, we only had two new songs to learn, which was nice,” he says. The tracks in question are Nineties and Shipwrecked In Atlantis, all riffs, bounce and chorus, premium Busted, basically, only louder. “Without sounding too optimistic, the people coming were hardcore Busted fans and we knew we were giving them exactly what they wanted,” says Willis. “We’ve made the perfect Busted album. If you’re a Busted fan, you’re gonna fucking dig those songs, do you know what I mean?” Nineties was crucial. The band had grown frustrated during writing trips to Los Angeles and scrapped two albums’ worth of material when it came along. “Night Driver has become like a concept record,” says Simpson, who’s holding a serious-looking vape from which he intermittently produces clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. “We went off in a direction which wasn’t ’80s but was still electronic and it just felt weird. We were like ‘What album are we trying to make now?’ Then we just booked a room in West London and ended up writing Nineties. Within three months, the album was written.” The riff came from a half-formed song Willis had written with Dougie Poynter, member of McFly and, of course, McBusted. “The riff was fucking great and the song was pretty shit. I showed these guys and they said, ‘Great, the rest of it’s shit but let’s keep that riff,’’ Willis explains. They all crack up, before the bassist continues. “That made us go, ‘Let’s write a fucking rock song!’ Then we said, ‘Fuck, let’s make a Busted album! Of course that’s what we should do!’” Simpson says the answer was “staring us in the face the whole time”, calling the new album “much more rock than before” and “a grown up version of what Busted was, which is the best thing.” They drafted in Pixies and Foo Fighters producer Norton and, driven by the desire to thank their fans for sticking by them, Busted designed the album with them in mind, rather than “trying to follow trends to get into the Spotify algorithm”. In context, Night Driver appears even more of a curveball. Bourne and Simpson insist they “fucking love” it, but Bourne notes that “There were moments where you’d be forgiven for thinking it was another band”. There’s no chance of that happening on Half Way There. Busted are seeking to solidify their identity, to build on the fanbase that remains so loyal. Two weeks after our interview the album is released, and takes an early chart lead, only to finish at No.2 behind The Specials’ Encore. “We didn’t need to change,” says Willis. “We’ve made something legitimate that we’re proud of and we love.” But Busted have changed. They’re older, for one, and the sense they’ve weathered a storm or two pervades. We talk at length about perception, and how Busted (which all three refer to in the third person) became a marketable entity in ways they never envisaged. Plotted thoroughly in Universal offices, it took on a life of its own. “We understand why it happened. I noticed the way we were marketed 100%, that’s why I didn’t want to do it anymore,” says Simpson. “Perception comes from the way you’re marketed,” Bourne joins in. “That’s one of the craziest things you learn, if you sell something a certain way, it’s very difficult to change that perception.” It’s clear the trio have cogitated over this subject a lot. Willis, calm for a fleeting moment, says, “People didn’t think it was real. If I saw three 17-year-old kids come out with pretty fucking great pop songs, I wouldn’t know if I’d believe it either. But it was real.” Busted “never meant to be” the band they became, he says, prompting all three to underline their gratitude and fortune and say they’re “not moaning”. And they’re not; they’re just airing their side of things. “I thought we’d be like Sum 41,” says Willis. “But before we knew it we were something completely different, and it was, ‘It’s working, don’t fuck it up,’ Suddenly you’re being dragged along by this industry machine that just churns.” These bleached blonde kids in skate gear didn’t discuss how they felt, which made the awkwardness more acute. “One of the problems we had was that we didn’t really talk about stuff like that,” says Simpson. “I was scared to open up. It was weird. I did, but to other people. I should have done more with Matt and James but…” Bourne is expressionless, and Willis agrees with the frontman. There’s tenderness in his voice as he says: “Maybe Charlie didn’t feel comfortable having the conversation, we’d been together two years before he joined. We let things fester.” Now, they want to look forward. A Glastonbury debut in 2017 has got them excited for festival season, and they hope the new record can shift them from boyband to rock band. “That’s one of the most exciting things, for me, making that statement, finally,” says Simpson. “There are things we could have done differently, but this time we’ve done it the way we wanted. Listen to the album, it fucking sounds awesome.” Tristan Lillingston of 1983 Management echoes that sentiment when Music Week catches up with him days later. The Fightstar manager has been with Simpson for a decade, and took Busted on before Night Driver. He says communication is key to their strategy and chuckles at the memory of his surprise when Simpson said he wanted to reignite Busted. “The most rewarding aspect is seeing how much they care about Busted as a band, as a brand, the music, the way they want to be perceived,” he says. “I make a joke that when their powers combine, they create the ‘Megazord’. With the songwriting prowess of James, the looks and voice of Charlie and the charisma of Matt you would have the perfect artist, absolutely.” Whether they can fulfil Lillingston’s dream of being seen “in the same vein as Green Day” remains to be seen. But Busted are on a mission to become the band they’ve always wanted to be. It’s what they went to school for...

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