‘The Greatest Album Never Made’ has finally been released. Assembled from demos and ‘field recordings’ made between 1979 and 1981 ‘Obviously 5 Believers’ by The Hawks is a delight, not because it is a missing piece in a musical jigsaw of some of our favourite artists but because it's genuinely an exciting record.
To recap, work on putting the album together began when former band members Dave Kusworth, Dave Twist and Stephen Duffy met at the latter’s gig in Birmingham in October 2019. Kusworth asked Duffy, the custodian of their tape archive, to ‘Release the Hawks’ and, having previously declined the offer, he agreed.
The tragedy of the tale is that, in September 2020, just prior to Duffy and Twist's plan to play some of the initial tracks to him, Kusworth unexpectedly passed away. The album, which was released a year after Kusworth’s death, is dedicated to his memory.
To recognise that ‘Obviously 5 Believers’ is our debut album of the year. I decided to catch up with the two former Hawks that had worked to put this project together: Dave Twist and Stephen Duffy. I spoke to Twist first. Here is someone who has been in three of Birmingham's most vital bands of the late seventies/early eighties (The Prefects, TV Eye and The Hawks), and maintained his love for music from then on right up to his current band (Black Bombers) and also, more recently, been the artistic eye behind the Brum celebrating designs at 'Rotunda Industries.' We have a lot to discuss...
I wanted to start by finding out more about Twist’s first forays into music.
DAVE TWIST: I came out of the sort of punk thing is like, the usual clichés of "Here's a chord, here's another chord..." Well, we even skipped that bit! I was a singer to start with but then decided that that really wasn't for me, so stole some bits of drum kit from the school music room cupboard and painted them gloss white! Within a few months, I was playing on my first Peel Session with The Prefects.
OL: The story goes that you and a young John Taylor once turned up to support The Prefects without knowing how to play your instruments.
DT: Yeah, I knew the Apperley brothers. They were a sort of proto-punk covers band who played early Hawkwind, T Rex, and Mott The Hoople numbers. I thought they were amazing....and they got me in!
Twist's next move was to the garage punkish TV Eye, a band that featured future Duran Duran vocalist Andy Wickett as well two of his soon-to-be Hawks colleagues: Dave Kusworth and Paul Adams. When TV Eye collapsed, ex-Duran Duran vocalist Stephen Duffy was contacted...
OL: After the chaos of TV Eye, The Hawks seem a lot more melodic by comparison.
DT: Yeah, that was the thing that led us to Stephen Duffy, we recognised that he could structure something melodically. We were very aware of that.
OL: The Hawks sounded like an early indie band, but before many other indie bands... Were you listening to those early Postcard singles?
DW: I think that we definitely pre-dated the Postcard bands. It’s just, I suppose, that some bands were coming to the same ideas at the same time. It was as if there was a very small break-off fragment of the zeitgeist.
Oddly, the one band that did come through at the same time as The Hawks was the very early Echo and the Bunnymen. I remember being booked to support them at the Cedar Club in Birmingham. We turned up and...it like that episode of Seinfeld where they meet their doppelgangers.... We walked in and we almost mirrored each other, member for member! I think that words were muttered to road managers and suddenly we weren’t the support group!
OL: Stephen has said in an interview that The Hawks '...had no great ambition, we didn’t even think about getting in the charts, if we could have been on Rough Trade and played a few gigs, that was it'. How do you remember your time together?
DT: I think we put a massive amount of energy in, but probably, and very naively, we put it into all the wrong places! My idea of how a band got signed was very much based on the opening credits to New Faces. And I could never understand why that didn't happen for us! To me now, I still can't get my head around it. Clearly, we were five very bright lads, but the structuring of the industry was a complete mystery to us.
OL: But you did try and get signed?
DW: Yeah. Back in those days, and I know it seems crazy, you could actually make an appointment for a record label, go down to the A&R man's office. We had appointments at Rough Trade and Island. We even had a connection at Island as we were briefly managed by Peter King who also managed Steel Pulse. So obviously we had our hopes up there! But I think that we were seen as being too overtly 'rock'…
OL: ...Apparently, that's the word Rough Trade used to describe you as.
DW: All I remember is that the A & R guy at Rough Trade was called Mayo Thompson, he'd been in a psychedelic band called The Red Krayola in America. Once, when they came to the UK, TV Eye had supported them. ...It didn't go well.
And this was the time that the music press was using the phrase 'rockist', I mean if you listen to our stuff now you can tell it manifestly isn't! It was that time that if you arrived at a record label looking remotely like Johnny Thunders you wouldn't have a chance!
OL: On the album, 'Big Store' and 'Sense of Ending' are the songs that immediately hit you. There seems to be a great rapport between you and (guitarist) Paul Adams. Do you have any fond memories of recording those tracks?
DT: We recorded 'Big Store' in Bob Lamb's flat! Our first demo, it was a lot of fun and very natural. Bob had built a little drum booth and a tiny little mixing desk. It may seem a bit Heath Robinson, but that's the flat he recorded the first UB40 album in!
'Sense of Ending'...that was later, when we were working with Pete King. It was meant as a B-Side and we made something that TV Eye would have done. Paul was just an amazing guitar player! I felt incredibly lucky to have landed with what I considered, and still consider, to be my perfect band.
OL: 'What Can I Give' has a smooth Roxy Music-like intro and then Stephen sings in, what I would describe as his 'pop star' voice. Could you see the emergence of his Tin Tin persona at all?
DT: Yes. The crazy thing is there's a whole other later period of The Hawks that isn't on that album where the material is closer to where Orange Juice were going! It was a little bit more dancey. The problem was, it really wasn't my forte, particularly. Or Dave's either.
When compiling the album, I think that Stephen very sensibly insisted on choosing the material that played to our strengths. Those later songs are good, but you can actually hear me struggling!
So 'Kiss Me' (Stephen ‘Tin Tin’ Duffy’s chart hit of 1985), started off as a Hawks song. Very late period Hawks, but there is a fairly scrappy demo of it somewhere. We're attempting to do a four on the floor groove!
OL: What effect did Dave Kusworth's untimely death have on the project?
DT: Dave was a lovely person and I miss him massively. After The Hawks disbanded I continued to work with him on and off for a long time.
I don’t think that this project would have come together if Dave's passing hadn't given the impetus. Equally, if Dave had been around, he would have definitely wanted the record to be a triple album with bonus tracks. Because Dave was always about that. If you look at any other of his reissues, he definitely just wanted to get it all out there. I just know that he would have grumbled like hell at it being a single album, but,really, he would have loved it.
OL: You designed the sleeve, it looks wonderful. There are not many pictures of the band all looking into the camera at the same time though…
DT: Yeah, I think that's where the graphic designer in me overruled the band member! That picture of Stephen on the cover is so striking, it's got that eye contact! I tried to do a version of the album sleeve with all five on the front and leave that picture on the inside, but it just wouldn’t have been as… potent.
OL: What’s happening with your current band - Black Bombers?
DT: We have a new single - and we're just debating when to release it! We've just got it back it from the pressing plant, which is amazing because of all the hassle everyone's having (with backlogs and delays), it's probably going to be released in February (2022). We’ve just got back from playing our first gig since lockdown…it's just so great to be part of a working band.
This feels like a significant note to end on and let Twist know that Outsideleft would be delighted to blow the gloom of February away with some fabulous noise by Black Bombers. Before I say farewell though, I congratulate Twist on the success of his fabulous designs for the products for ‘Rotunda Industries’ and their products that celebrate Birmingham’s pop-cultural heritage and creativity and promise him that I’ll be wearing one of their splendid sweatshirts by Christmas.
Tomorrow - The Hawks (part two) – our interview with Stephen Duffy.