Paul H slums it as Boakes.
Doug Degnin answers back as Privet.
"How do you cross 70's Miles Davis with Stanshall`s Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band while trying to empty your soul, do shift work and stay in recovery?"
This is exactly what Simon Young asked Doug Degnin in Brighton in 2003. What then happened was the slow creation of Nice Feel, Beachy Head Music Club's first album. Privet and Boakes play/ed together as Backwash, so the vibe for this interview in Cambridge was friendly, unconditional and the sharing of the Zippo lighter was graciously carried out without the need for a spittoon or a silver spoon.
PH: I am sitting here in coolish Cambridge looking out over a very dark night sky along with Doug Degnin, the vocalist and one of many prime movers with Brighton based band, Beachy Head Music Club. Doug, just tell me a little bit about; well, where on earth did that name come from?
DD: Well, if you listen to the lyrics on the album, they are about the stresses and strains of life. A couple of the band members have been addicts. Addicts as in alcoholics, yeah, mostly alcohol. When you go through that rehab process, suicide can come to the fore. Beachy Head is a nice place on the Sussex Coast to jump off. It's a well know suicide site. We operate as a fluid club of like minded`s as well.
PH: Ok, so a Brighton based band, not far from Beachy Head, where was Nice Feel recorded?
DD: Basically we had a 16 track digital recorder, and, the idea being that we could take that wherever we wanted. It's like a toy, its got faders and knobs you can twist and turn. We recorded in different places in Sussex mainly. Gardens are my favourite for vocals.
PH: So who else is in the band?
DD: Simon Young was the main impetus in Nice Feel. He is the bass player, plays a bit of banjo and a very good guitarist. Then we've got Mini- (Nick) Cooper, on guitars, and Nick Flowers played the drums and some backing vocals. Nick also sings the main vocal on Love on the Dole.
PH: I have been listening to Nice Feel a lot, it seems to have many influences; jazz, blues, almost an English weirded out comedy side to some of it....what influences have you guys got, and how come it sounded like this?
DD: I suppose Si and I worked together for a while, had something's in common, and it's a hotch potch of stuff; that 60`s Beatlesqueness, one of my favourite times in music was punk, but admittedly its hardly punk, is it? Ian Dury is one of my most revered vocalists. A bit of Miles Davis, a dash of Robert Wyatt. It's definitely English - we like Vivian Stanshall`s Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band a lot.
PH: Well those musicians certainly come through in Nice Feel in their own way. I detected a bit of that Kent music scene/ Robert Wyatt feel to it as well. Simon sounds a talented all round musician. Nick and Mini hold their own as well. I really like your vocals and the harmonies, did you write any lyrics on Nice Feel?
DD: I wrote Clissold Park, the first track, although, what really happened is Simon usually came up with a bunch of chords and a vocal melody line. I played around with those ideas, so I suppose it had a Young/Degnin mauling around and out they popped. Nick and Mini opened their tool bags, went to work and there you have it. The new album we are working on it's a bit more varied in co-writing, we know each other better through making Nice Feel. Mini Cooper is writing too and Nick Flowers is good on track linking's, painting musical interludes to give fluency to the whole album.
PH: Yeah, I like funny shit like that, links between tracks......lets just go back to the album and the recording process. A 16 track portable recorder, fluidity, in and around Bright-on, moving around, different energies....was there anybody else who helped out on Nice Feel? There are a lot of instruments in places.
DD: Yeah. There are not a lot of overdubs on it; we wanted that live feel to come through. We invited some guests along as well to help us out.
PH: I feel some name dropping coming, tell me it aint so.
DD: Well, we started recording the track I Do first, a very special song written just after Ron Aspery from Back Door (www.blakeymusic/Backdoor) died, he was a good friend, we actually started the recording over at Herbie Flower's place, there's a name, I dropped in a name there...........I recorded the vocals on I Do next to Herbie`s fishpond.
PH: Herbie Flowers................ He sounds familiar..................
DD: Well, he wrote and played the bass line on Lou Reeds Walk on the Wildside, he played with Bowie, was Marc Bolan`s bass player for a while and some Family stuff.........
PH: What's he like then, Herbie, he must be, what, 179 by now.
DD: Nah, not quite, actually he is a miserable bastard. Not true at all, he is a lovely man who used to buy lots of lovely cakes while we were recording and made us Russian Earl Grey tea, which tastes nothing like regular Earl Grey, its very, very nice. My favourite cake Herbie bought us was an Elderflower and Blackcurrant flavoured one. He played tuba actually on High, which is all about smoking drugs. Old Holborn rolling tobacco mainly. In fact, it's the same tuba he played on Midnight Ladies which is on Lou Reed's Transformer album.
PH: Blimey, I asked for that I guess. Anyone else partly famous turn up then? Keith Richards, or, Robert Wyatt, what about Steve Mason, or, Ken Stringfellow perchance?
DD: No mate, Keith had a headache, Robert was busy, and Steve and Ken wouldn't answer their mobiles!! Big Vern played a lot of the magical fiddly guitar parts, Vicci Stratton played some flute and Charlotte Glasson plays flutes and saxophones..................she has done some work with the Divine Comedy, Oasis and other musicians, whose names I couldn't tell you, memory loss you know.(Doug begins to shake his head and look to the Zippo for inspiration. Or something.
PH: Come on, come on, names please!
DD: You've got me there.....................I better have a sip of this minted Moroccan tea, to try and help............ That's better; now its coming back to me, Charlotte has guested with John Martyn as well as The Lost and Found Orchestra, which is something to do with the Stomp Theatre Collective.
PH: A stellar cast............isnt it amazing what the mint can do! The album is on your own label, Beachbum, have you been gigging the album?
DD: Yeah, a lot, Brighton Festival in particular we played at several times, which were good gigs and good fun, which is always a bonus..........
PH: It's a bit of a snobby, middle-class, Sunday colour supplement wanker fest, isn't it, that one?
DD: Can be. For us it was great. Well, you've just got to hope you don't have a bunch of musicians watching a bunch of musicians I suppose. Luckily we invited mostly non- muso`s to our gigs from our monstrous fan base. It was great. It was a fucking good weekend. Unlike the festie in Sussex near the Ouse a couple of weeks back. That was a grade A+ disaster. Rain and PA sound problems. We honestly played ok though!
PH: Festivals man, you got to take the rough with the smooth I guess Doug, what's the Beachy dressing room atmosphere like before you go on...............?
DD: Simon is usually sitting very quietly and relaxed Mini Cooper is usually in the toilet, Nick Flower's...I dunno where he goes, he sometimes disappears, but usually returns. I just pace up and down and get stroppy sometimes, adrenaline flow I guess. Actually I haven't mentioned our keyboard player Tom Arnold, who is in the Brighton Beach Boys. He does a lot of piano work for us, blinding musician and plays some lovely stuff.
PH: You talked about the new album, hows that coming on?
DD: Thick and fast, thick and fast...............it's going to be heavier, with a harder bluesy feel to it and more Miles Davis jazzy. Subtle, tough and very serious.
PH: That sounds great Doug. Good luck with the album. Many thanks for that snapshot of Nice Feel and the band. How can anyone contact you if they wanted to?
DD: Yeah, we have joined the myspace swinger's party, so any comments, any mail orders for the album from Europe and any where else on the planet, some plain old bitching or any questions we can help you out with, contact us on MySpace
Boakes turns off the tape player, empties the ash tray and puts on the kettle. Privet refuels the Zippo. The ghosts of Stanshall and Wyatt, Aspery and Dury drift away into the Cambridge night sky, having made a poltergeist style appearance through the speakers on Nice Feel.
Nice one, as they say.
Paul Hawkins has been interested in popular culture and music, protest and survival for as long as we can remember. He began writing about things, making music and other noise at an early age. Paul has interviewed musicians, writers, poets, protestors and artists.