AN INTENSE JANGLING POST-PUNK PSYCHEDELIA SAW FOUR-PIECE THE MIGHTY LEMON DROPS OFTEN COMPARED TO ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN.
Formed in 1985, the Wolverhampton band released an independent EP – LIKE AN ANGEL (SOMETHING HAPPENS, from it, features on SCARED TO GET HAPPY) – before inclusion on the NME’s seminal C86 compilation tape, and signing to a subsidiary of Chrysalis Records run by Rough Trade’s Geoff Travis. Acclaimed debut album HAPPY HEAD followed, the band issuing five more before eventually splitting up in 1992.
Here, guitarist David Newton (now resident in the US) discusses The Mighty Lemon Drops’ early days and independent roots.
THE MIGHTY LEMON DROPS’ TRACK SOMETHING HAPPENS FEATURES ON SCARED TO GET HAPPY… IT MUST BE PLEASING TO BE REMEMBERED AS AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE INDIE SCENE THAT THE COMPILATION CELEBRATES?
Yes, it’s always nice to be remembered and to be included in compilations. And especially nice to be contacted first-hand, and to have input (which, sadly, is not always the case).
THE SONG WAS FROM YOUR DEBUT RELEASE LIKE AN ANGEL, AN EP WHICH TOPPED THE INDIE CHARTS… BUT WHAT GOT YOU TO THE POINT WHERE YOU WERE PUTTING OUT THAT RECORD?
We’d done a few gigs around the Midlands, and made a rough demo tape with our original drummer (the now late) Martin Gilks (who was replaced by Keith Rowley when Martin moved on to join The Wonder Stuff). I sent a handful out to small labels or people that I admired – including Alan McGee, and also to Dan Treacy of Television Personalities, who both ran small labels and small club nights. Dan (and his then girlfriend Emily Brown) got back right away and said that they loved it, and immediately offered us two gigs in London: one supporting TVP’s in Deptford and one at Dan’s club Room At The Top (at Chalk Farm, The Enterprise) the following day supporting The Membranes. The Legend! (aka Everett True) wrote an over-the-top review of the latter for NME and … well that was it ! Dan then said he wanted to do a record as soon as possible!!
… DO YOU RECALL MUCH OF THE MAKING OF IT?
We chose SOMETHING HAPPENS for SCARED TO GET HAPPY because the song LIKE AN ANGEL has been used before. It’s been on other compilations (CD86 for example). SOMETHING HAPPENS was, kind of, the b-side – though, to be honest, when we recorded the five songs that made up the 12” & the 7” (there was an unreleased early version of ALL THE WAY too), we just recorded what we thought were our five best songs at that time. As far as we were concerned this might well have been our only record, so it was our “mission statement” at that point. We had no idea if anyone would buy it or like it at that point: we’d only been together 4 or 5 months when we made these recordings. It was made in a guy called Wilsom Sharpe’s front room, Electrorhythm Studios. Dan had used it a couple of times and it was really cheap – about half the price of the venerable popular indie studio Alaska Studios. The whole EP cost 96 quid and it sounded huge! I still think that it’s the greatest / biggest sounding recording I’ve ever been involved in!
WHAT DID “INDEPENDENT MUSIC” MEAN TO YOU BACK THEN?
To be honest, when we formed in 1985 there wasn’t a lot of exciting stuff happening, really. To us, at least… Most of our favourite post-punk bands / artists had either gone quiet or stopped. We missed the edgy angular guitar-angst of the likes of early Wah! Heat etc, and the post-punk energy of Gang Of Four and so on. We wanted to combine that energy with a melodic 60s garagey thing, yet at the same time acknowledge the “emotionally introspective“ records we loved by the likes of The Wild Swans, Pale Fountains, Care … even early Lloyd Cole. As for “independent music”: we’d all grown up buying 7” singles on Rough Trade, Small Wonder and all those great labels right into the 80s. I probably had way more 7” on indie labels than on majors come to think of it…
WERE CONTEMPORARY BANDS AN INFLUENCE ON THE MIGHTY LEMON DROPS? WAS THERE MUCH ABOUT THAT YOU LIKED?
Obviously the Creation bands. The label had just released The Loft which was great, and of course the odd band like The Pastels and The June Brides. I remember hearing the first single by The Wedding Present, GO OUT AND GET ‘EM BOY (also on SCARED TO GET HAPPY), and being excited by the energy of that. Another one that was an influence – though not a very ‘hip’ one nowadays – was early Screaming Blue Messiah’s. The angular post-Wilko Johnson guitar and the energy was exciting at the time – 1984/85.
GEOFF TRAVIS SIGNED YOU TO A SUBSIDIARY OF CHRYSALIS – IN EFFECT PUTTING YOU ONTO A MAJOR… DID YOU FEEL ANY CHANGES IN THE WAY THINGS WORKED FOR YOU, BECAUSE OF THAT?
Geoff had become a regular at our gigs from the very early stages. He wanted to do something almost immediately. By that point we had so many labels / sharks hovering over us that it became overwhelming. We needed help – a manager or something – and we couldn’t find anyone we really liked or trusted for the longest time. Dan wanted to do another record. I’m pretty sure Geoff wanted us on Rough Trade (he certainly was around a lot), then EMI or whoever would be calling my Mom’s house while we’d be driving to a gig in… Cleethorpes or wherever. After going through a few ill-advised management sharks, it became unbearable and we gave our friends Cerne Canning and Simon Esplen (who were promoters at indie club Bay 63) a chance. They were brilliant from the get-go. Geoff talked about us maybe being on Blanco Y Negro, but Warner Bros UK didn’t feel right. We’d met with Chrysalis and they seemed a bit more tuned-in. Geoff had been talking with them about doing a Blanco-type thing together for a while, so we signed via Geoff to Blue Guitar – as did The Shop Assistants, on the same day. We had a joint signing party together… and apparently we drank all their champagne, ha ha! Around the same time we signed to Sire / Warner Brothers for North America, which turned out to be a really good move.
DEREK JARMAN IS NOTED FOR HIS SHORT FILMS FOR THE SMITHS – BUT HE ALSO PRODUCED A VIDEO FOR ONE OF YOUR SINGLES, OUT OF HAND. DID YOU HAVE MUCH INVOLVEMENT?
It was pretty much all their concept. The main guy was Richard Heslop (same with The Smiths films they made). The band wasn’t really in the original cut of that video at all. We had to fight to get some band footage in there – so not much of a collaboration at all, really, ha ha ! Looks good though, with hindsight…
YOU ALSO FEATURED ON C86 … WHAT WERE YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT THAT. DID IT BECOME A BIT OF A MILLSTONE, OR A CALLING CARD?
When we were offered C86, we had no idea what it would become – and neither did a lot of the other bands, I’d wager. We remembered NME’s C81 cassette – from 1981, funnily enough – and it was just a collection of remixes or outtakes of the artists of the day. We thought C86 would be the same thing, so we made a bit of a mistake. Instead if giving them LIKE AN ANGEL or whatever, we managed to get the NME to give us 100 quid and we went into a studio in Wolverhampton and recorded three songs. We ended up giving them an underdeveloped version of a new song we had, HAPPY HEAD…. which was our intention… until you put it next to The Bodines sparkling Ian Broudie-produced THERESE a few tracks later… Ours does, indeed, sound like a demo in comparison. But, whatever. You live you learn…
HAPPY HEAD WAS ALSO THE TITLE OF YOUR DEBUT ALBUM, AND YOU RELEASED TWO MORE BEFORE YOU LEFT THE CHRYSALIS DEAL. WAS LEAVING DIFFICULT, OR A WEIGHT OFF YOUR BACK?
We always had a great relationship with both Geoff Travis and Chrysalis, really. I think that after our third album a lot was changing in the UK, what with the whole Manchester thing. Suddenly we weren’t really a part of that, and that’s it, really. Things move on… Fortunately, we were doing quite well in the USA and our third album – LAUGHTER – was our most successful to date there, so we just concentrated on things over there.
FURTHER ALBUMS FOLLOWED BEFORE YOU SPLIT, IN 1992. HAD YOU REACHED THE POINT WHERE YOU FELT YOU COULDN’T TAKE THE BAND MUCH FURTHER?
We made a pretty lacklustre album – SOUND, in 1991 – which somehow got a worldwide release via Warner Bros. But it’s … well, let’s just say that it’s no show- stopper, ha ha ha… We couldn’t believe it when they asked us to make another album after that. But we made RICOCHET, in 1992 – and quite cheaply, at Elephant Studios in Wapping. We put a lot into it and it turned out well, really. Much better than our previous effort. We did one last US tour in late 1992 but just decided that the thing had run its course. We parted on gentlemen’s terms – and we’re still good friends.
LOOKING BACK AT THE ENTIRE LIFESPAN OF THE MIGHTY LEMON DROPS, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WERE THE BEST MOMENTS?
The first year – 1985 /1986 – was just brilliant. So much fun… Tony (Linehan, bassist /co- songwriter) owned a VW Caravanette that we drove into the ground up & down the M6 and M1. Our time in London seemed to be spent between the living-room floor of Dan Treacy and Emily Brown’s flat on Poynders Rd in Clapham and the Rough Trade offices in Collier St, Kings Cross… and the nearby Malt & Hops pub! Quite exciting in many ways. It was great watching all these amazing, seemingly like-minded, bands emerging in such a small space of time, and all these great clubs turning up all over the country. One of our favourite bands to play with was Pop Will Eat Itself (our friends, and fellow Midlanders). There’s an article in there – a book, even – on tales from those days alone, ha ha! We met so many great like-minded people, many that we’re all still friends with to this day… The best of times…