Saturday 2 December 2023

The Saturday List #423 - My top ten musical influences

 In my job, running a studio, I come across many up and coming artists. For some reason, they seem to value my opinions of their music. They will often play me a track and ask my opinion. I'll listen and give a considered opinion. One of the questions I ask is "what are your musical influences". What surprises me is how often they give a long list of artists that they think sound cool, but clearly have no relation to the music they've just played me. Of course I get why bands may want to seem cool, but in fact they are doing themselves a disservice as if they actually listed the people who influenced their sound, it would make it far easier for them to connect with an audience. In some ways I made the same mistake myself when we started out. We'd list bands we liked rather than artists who had directly influenced our music. 

Over the last two years, the False Dots have changed considerably. When Allen Ashley was singing with the band, the style was a mash up of both his and my infuences, but now the sound is very much mine. I think my musical influences can easily be identified in our music. In the early days, it was probably true to say that our influences were the 1977 punk bands that myself and Pete Conway listened to. Over the 44 years of the band, we've considerably widened our influnces. I thought it might be fun to look at these and link them to some of our material, so maybe you can see the links. The passing of Shane MacGowan seems an ideal time to do this, given the huge influence of the Pogues.

1. Ian Dury. Of all the artists that you can hear a direct thread to the Dots, Dury is perhaps the most obvious. I met Mr Dury once, in 1977/8 in Camden. When Allen left the band, I wanted to acknowldge this and wrote a song called Channelling Ian Dury. It 'borrows' the riff from Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll and tells the story of this meeting. It is a tribute to the great man. I hope, up on his cloud in the sky he likes it. Ian Dury made a lot of people like me think, for the first time, that maybe they could be in a band and do someting creative. 

2. The Specials. I first saw The Specials at The Lyceum in 1979. They were bottom of the bill at The Lyceum, supporting The Damned and The UK Subs. I loved the Damned and The Subs, I'd vaguley heard of them at the time, but I wasn't prepared for what I saw. I always say that as they walked on, I was about to take a sip of a pint of beer. They were so engrossing that the pint stopped in it's tracks, and 30 minutes later, I took that sip. It is possible that I have seen the Specials more than any other band over the years. We saw them for the final time at a festival at Rochester Castle last year, shortly before Terry Hall passed away. As soon as I saw them, I wanted to incorporate some of the elements of their music in our set. In our cuirrent set, perhaps this is best demonstrated by "Oh No Sharon", which in some ways is reminscent of Too much to young, both lyrically and in its mashing up of punk and ska.

3. Marc Bolan. I set up The False Dots with Pete Conway in 1979, but we'd been at school together since we were four years old. We'd often sing T Rex songs in the playground, changing the words to our own versions. Pete Conways Dad was so worried with our T Rex infatuation that he told us Bolan had fleas and didn't wash. I asked my sister Valerie about this. She said that he wouldn't have all of the lovely girlfriends he'd had if it was true. That was when I realised some adults don't always tell you the truth. I love the sound of Bolans voice and his guitar. I wanted to write a proper sounding Glam Rock song for the new album. I've learned after many years, that I have to sing my own way, but I tried to get a bit of Bolan's sound on the guitar, although people say it sounds more like Sweet (which is no bad thing really!). This song tries to catch the spirit of St Vincents Playground in 1972, with me & Pete talking about Dr Who, UFO and Bolan.

4. The Cramps. The band that relly defined the psychobilly sound. I loved the wild, scratchy sort of lead style of the band. They really didn't sound like anything else when they emerged. A big, sparce drum sound pounding away. The False Dots would never be a psychobilly band, but there's a fair few licks in my guitar that borrow directly from the band. This is perhaps most noticeable in "Buy me a bottle of Jack". This was produced by Boz Boorer and he really got the references in it

5. Scientist. I developed a love of the heavy dub sound of the Jamaican remixers such as Scientist. The use of echo and pulling things apart and putting them back together is something that fascinates me. I played one of our songs to Boz Boorer, Wacky Races and he did the "Dub and Marriage remix" which is amazing. I was so chuffed when I heard this. The band have always tried to do a few songs with a Regggae influence over the years, with varying amounts of success!

6. Madness. Coming from North London, it would be hard not to be influenced by Madness. It's fair to say that Suggs style of singing is not entirely dissimilar to my own. The band also have a love of whimsy and many of their songs are a commentary on life in North London. Anyone who attended a comprehensive school in the 70's totally gets Baggy Trousers. Driving in my car is a song that always makes me smile, as I was raised in the motor trade, with Dad running a garage. I wrote Men and Motors as tribute to the blokes who worked for him and the shenanigans they got up to. I think that lyrically it is perhaps the most Madnessy of our songs

7. The Pogues. Another Iconic North London band. I love the lyrics of Shane MacGowan and his observational style. I think he really makes you feel that you are with him when you listen to the lyrics. Although everyone thinks of 'Fairytale' when you mention the Pogues, I think that Rainy Night in Soho is the true classic from the band. Although the False Dots don't really sound like the Pogues at all,  I think that I try and capture some of the joy and melancholy of his lyrical style. In "Intermission in the Ship", I was trying to capture the vibe of sneaking a pint in The Ship pub in Wardour Street, when the Marquee was down the road in the 1970's and 80's. I love catching a cheeky pint on my own, reading the Evening Standard, eating a bag of peanuts and watching the world go by. A pair of brown eye's is a great example of this style. 

8. Big Audio Dynamite. Although I loved the work of the Clash, especially their first album, I actually prefer the work of Mick Jones with Big Audio Dynamite after he left the band. Although people always put Joe Strummer first in the pecking order, I think Jones is a better song writer. As soon as I heard the band, I wanted to incorporate some of their ideas into the bands work. When we recorded Shake Your Bones with Boz Boorer, we deliberately referenced the band and put a few very Big Audio Dynamite touches in, especially in the backing vocals. There are quite a few things in The Bottom Line that we've borrowed to a certain extent over the years. This song was used by Channel 4 as the theme tune for it's American Football coverage in the 1980's and a professional songrwriter explained why it is ideal for such use, something I tok heed of.

9. The Pioneers. I've picked the Pioneers, I probably should have picked the whole Trojan catalogue. I absolutely love the Ska genre, it is perhaps the most joyful of all musical genre's. If I ever get asked to DJ, I always play Ska music. It is almost guaranteed to get people up and dancing.  One of my favourite tracks is Longshot Kick Da Bucket. A sorry tale of losing your money on a horse that is winning and drops down dead. Back in 2018, I thought it would be fun to write an alternative version, where Longshot didn't die. It was when Allen was still in the band and he co wrote the lyrics. I believe this was the last song we collaborated on and the only one we wrote together that we currently play. Allen was keen to expand the song into a bit of a rant about the dangers of gambling. I think it works pretty well. I think that to some extent, you can hear all of our infliuences in some small way in this song,


10. The Leyton Buzzards. Now I guess that of all of the artists mentioned, these are the ones that I guess are the most obscure, however in the terms of what the band are doing now, perhaps one of the most important. During lockdown, when we literally had nothing to do, I dug out a whole a stack of old records and listened to them. One of them was "Saturday night beneath the plastic palm trees". It is a brilliant track, it encapsulates many of the elements that I felt the band should be doing. It captures a moment in time brilliantly. It has a bit of a reggae meets north London vibe. Perhaps most importantly Geoff Dean's vocal style was very much something I felt I could do. Prior to 2021, every song I'd written had been done with the intention of having a 'proper singer' singing it. When the country emerged from lockdown, Allen was unable to rehearse, so I started to work on new material that I could sing and do justice to. At first, I had no idea whether I could, but in the back of my mind, was the fact that the Leyton Buzzards had a hit doing just this. The first song I wrote, in our new incarnation, for myself to sing was Sunday in the 70's. The lyrics were very inspired by our drummer Gray Ramsey (AKA Rambo) and his reminiscences of the period. The first draft of the song was rubbish. Very pompous and up itself. When I played it to the band, Gray started talking about his family's Sunday dinners and traditions. I pulled it apart and started again, it is much better for it. I guess I owe Geoff Dean a beer if I ever see him again!

I should add that there are a lot of other bands, I will add these to the playlist over time, these are mostly punk bands, such as Wire, The Ramones, The Fall, The Buzzcocks, The Heartbreakers and The Dickies, as well as a few West Coast 60's psychedelic bands such as The Steve Miller Band, Moby Grape and Quicksilver Messenger Servic, as well as a few Indie bands such as Blur and The Happy Mondays. These weren't in the top ten as I feel that whilst the influence was big at certain times in the bands development, they are not really where we are at so much today. 

Here's the list in a playlist! 

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