THE SPIKY SYNCOPATED GUITARS, TUMBLING BASS AND AGITATED DRUMS OF GETTING NOWHERE FAST – THE DEBUT SINGLE FROM GIRLS AT OUR BEST – MAKE IT A HIGHLIGHT OF THE FIRST DISC IN THE SCARED TO GET HAPPY BOX SET.
GETTING NOWHERE FAST was the NME’s Single Of The Week and reached the indie chart Top Ten in April 1980. The band, fronted by Judy Evans, released four further singles, plus the album PLEASURE, before splitting up two years after that first record. Here, guitarist Jez Alan talks to The Mouth Magazine about the group’s early days in Leeds, including a little of the city’s musical division, and reveals what he’s been doing in the three decades since. He also, of course, discusses GETTING NOWHERE FAST itself – and finally offers an explanation for the song’s ‘shock’ sudden ending…
GETTING NOWHERE FAST FEATURES ON SCARED TO GET HAPPY – IT’S GOOD THAT IT’S REMEMBERED AS A GREAT SINGLE IN THAT FIRST WAVE OF THE SCENE THE BOX SET IS CELEBRATING?
It’s amazing – and certainly far surpasses any thoughts we had about it at the time. We hoped our records would last a little while – hence the decision to never have photos of ourselves on the sleeves (we thought it would lock us too firmly in a certain era). Ironic really, as we’re seen now – obviously – as totally of an era.
HOW DO YOU THINK THE SONG STANDS UP NOW?
I think the song still stands up today as it’s short and simple. The lyrics are even more relevant now than they ever were before!
AT THE TIME DID YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’D MADE A ‘CLASSIC’ ..?
We knew it was a good song – and that WARM GIRLS was, as well. I think our expectations were just to get it out on a single and maybe sell a few copies. I don’t think we’d thought ahead much further than that. Our band had split up so it was just Judy and I. We thought it’d be a waste not to leave behind some sort of legacy. We went down to London for the day and took it to a few small record companies. Beggars Banquet was one. Judy refused to leave the tape with anyone – they had to listen to it while we were there, or lump it. The arrogance of youth! Rough Trade got back to us and we met Geoff Travis and really liked him…
… IT MUST HAVE BEEN STRANGE FOR ROUGH TRADE TO PICK UP ON YOU AFTER YOU’D ACTUALLY SPLIT THE BAND? OF COURSE, WHEN YOU STARTED UP AGAIN YOU CHANGED THE NAME (FROM THE BUTTERFLIES) TO GIRLS AT OUR BEST…
The Butterflies name was to gain attention. So many punk / post-punk bands, by then, had really aggressive names and it just became meaningless. Such a different name stood out in local gig listings. It was also funny to play our (as I now know it to be) really atonal ugly music – typical post-punk experimentalism – and have such a soppy name. We had a few loyal fans (hi, Sid). I think they liked the fact we were a bit unpredictable, to say the least.
I’VE ALWAYS WONDERED ABOUT THE WAY GETTING NOWHERE FAST JUST CUTS OUT… STROKE OF GENIUS, OR THE TAPE RUNNING OUT?!
It was a deliberate attempt to sound dramatic – like the end of 1977 by The Clash – but more extreme! The sound engineer wanted to leave some room reverb after the cut-off – but we preferred it sounding, as you say, like the tape ran out.
I IMAGINE IT WAS QUITE FLATTERING WHEN THE WEDDING PRESENT – ANOTHER GREAT BAND TO COME OUT OF LEEDS IN THE 1980s – RECORDED A COVER?
I never knew about The Wedding Present recording of it until many years later. Yes, it was a pleasant surprise! I’d moved to London by then and didn’t know much about the music scene in Leeds.
… THE EARLY DAYS… YOU WERE IN LEEDS – PLAYING IN PUNK BAND SOS! – AND YOU WENT TO ART COLLEGE, WHICH IS WHERE YOU FIRST MET JUDY ..?
We were both on the same course (a one year Foundation) and we just became friends. I was still playing with SOS! when I started the course. I was very into pop art but, really, I went to art college to find creative people (à la Bowie / Kinks / The Who etc). Judy and I were quite different. I was a punk – and she didn’t really seem bothered about music… But she was really interesting, and she had attitude.
HOW DID THE MUSICAL RELATIONSHIP DEVELOP?
SOS! split and I wanted to do something a bit less formulaic – although SOS! had been a great Clash / Buzzcocks style punk band. Gerrard from Girls At Our Best! was the bassist (aka Terry Lean)… This time, I thought it’d be really interesting to work with a complete non-musician, as Judy was then. More like conceptual art, I suppose..? We had another student – Patrick Ford – on bass. He’d also never actually played an instrument before. I got really frustrated trying to teach him to play… but I’d wanted to avoid working with ‘musos’ – they were so boring… The whole thing was a bit… bonkers.
WHAT CAN YOU REMEMBER OF REACTIONS TO YOU AT THE TIME?
We were really lucky with the press. Adrian Thrills gave us single of the week in the NME and then did a feature with us. Then the other papers got interested. There was a bit of a backlash, though, when the album came out. But we had a great crowd at all the gigs we did. If you search YouTube you can find some recently discovered live recordings from our last UK concert. You can hear what we sounded like live – not too bad, I reckon. We were quite energetic on stage. We certainly weren’t shoegazers!
JUDY WAS SOMETHING OF A ‘PIN-UP’ (HORRIBLE PHRASE). DID YOU EVER FIND THE BAND PUSHED DOWN A BLONDIE / ALTERED IMAGES ROUTE, WHERE THAT WAS THE FOCUS OF MARKETING? I REMEMBER READING A QUOTE FROM JUDY SAYING SHE REFUSED TO BE USED ON THE COVERS OF YOUR RECORDS…
She was certainly very good looking – which we, as a band, acknowledged. But we didn’t over-exploit that. Judy may well have said that she didn’t want to be “used” on the cover of records, but she wasn’t actually a militant feminist, at all. I think people thought we were more concerned with gender issues than we were… obviously because of our name. We were quite against any sort of ‘isms’… Leeds at that time had quite a musical division.
There were the local town bands (a very few of whom were involved in far right politics) and the student bands (some of whom were involved in very left wing politics). We were a bit unusual in that we had friends on both sides of the divide. We were more interested in personal politics. Sort yourself out first, before you start telling other people what to think or how to behave… The difference between Sex Pistols and The Clash.
GIRLS AT OUR BEST RELEASED ONE ALBUM (PLEASURE) AND A HANDFUL OF SINGLES. IN SMASH HITS MAGAZINE YOU, YOURSELF, DESCRIBED THE ALBUM AS “A GREATEST HITS, OF SONGS THAT AREN’T HITS YET”… IT DOES HAVE THAT ‘PERFECT POP’ THING GOING ON. IT ALMOST REACHED TOP SPOT ON THE INDIE CHART – WAS THAT MORE OR LESS THAN YOU’D EXPECTED?
We wanted a ‘proper’ record deal and were seduced by Happy Birthday records. They wanted us to be a chart pop band, but I think we still saw ourselves as more subversive than that. We were very pleased with the amount of success we did have though… I think confusion and conflict over what we expected and were hoping for was partly why we split up, actually. I think, in retrospect that if we had stayed with Rough Trade it might have been different.
HOW DID THE SPLIT COME ABOUT? IT SEEMS QUITE A SHORT ‘CAREER’ (AGAIN, HORRIBLE WORD)…
Too much, too soon… and confusion over what we were doing and why we were doing it. We did a short tour of New York & the East Coast of the USA. Most of the gigs were not very full, no-one knew who we were. There was an in-store record signing session like the one in Spinal Tap. No-one knew or cared who we were. We didn’t get on with each other very well, it was a bit tense. I think we just needed a break from it. I think I became a bit of a tosser. Some people probably think I still am…
… DO YOU EVER HAVE CONTACT WITH THE OTHERS?
I haven’t heard from Judy for years. But I saw Terry and Titch only a few weeks ago – Titch was drumming with his old (fellow Leeds post-punk) band The Expelaires, who’ve reformed. Very good they were, too! That’s actually the band he left to join Girls At Our Best – so he must have realised his mistake after 33 years!
WHAT DID YOU DO AFTER GIRLS AT OUR BEST?
I moved to London and after playing, very briefly, with ‘Bat Cave’ goths Sex Beat, I joined The Tall Boys (formed by the very talented Nigel Lewis & Mark Robertson of The Meteors). I had a great time playing guitar with them for two or three years – a mixture of 60s garage rock, punk and rock n’ roll. A few years later I formed SaDoDAda! (with Johnny Slut of Nag, Nag, Nag fame). We were a ‘techno-punk-glam-experience’ complete with transvestite backing-singers and a (real) Dalek! Boy George was a fan – which was cool… I’ve been playing a few gigs across Europe with Nigel and Mark in The Tall Boys again. The pysychobilly scene, of which we were a part, is still big in Europe. We’ve a new album due out later this year and I’m also halfway through making a solo album (with the working title of GRIEVOUS BODILY CHARM)…
… HA! WHAT A TITLE!
I’d describe it as ‘classic glam-punk-rock-n’roll’ and I think GIRLS AT OUR BEST fans would certainly like some of the songs – although my voice is nothing like that of Judy Evans… I’d be seeing a doctor if it was! I still find it very odd to be playing guitar and gigging and recording again… But it seems that just about every band from the late 70s and early 80s is at it – so why not?! It supports my (rather unoriginal) theory that the era of pop & rock that started after the war has really come to an end. In the same way that Beethoven’s music and Mozart’s music is still alive, and being played by ‘covers bands’, so the canon of rock and pop is starting to be recycled in a similar way. It’s just happened so quickly that all the original artists are the ones playing it… I might, incidentally, be talking bollocks. I often do!