Andy Lewis is a busy man. When he’s not making groovy soul, funk and mod music under his own name, he’s DJing, collecting obscure records, playing bass for Paul Weller or, with his latest project, The Red Inspectors, creating strange soundtracks to films that don’t exist. Somehow he managed to find the time to go down the pub with me for a chat about prog rock jams, bleak ’80s disco, the legacy of Britpop and the great lost third Andy Lewis album….
Sean: I’ve been listening to the debut album by your new band The Red Inspectors – Are We The Red Inspectors? Are We? I really like it. To me, it sounds like the film soundtrack to a cult ‘60s movie. It’s very eclectic – from mod sounds, to Eastern influences, to Easy Listening and even prog!
Andy: Thanks. My own personal take on it is that’s it’s a bit like watching an episode of The Sweeney – there’s incidental music, then someone doing a turn in a pub, etc, etc.
Sean: How did the Red Inspectors record come about?
Andy: We’ve been playing together for a very long time – since 1989. Me, Pete Twyman and Miles Chapman were the nucleus of a band called Pimlico, during the Britpop phase. We’ve always had a very eclectic selection of tastes. When we used to rehearse with Pimlico, we used to do silly, extended prog rock jams, just for a laugh. On one memorable occasion we tried to recreate the incidental music to an episode of The Professionals. Now, over 20 years later, here we are making an album that encapsulates all those daft things that we used to do, but in a semi-serious way. It’s not meant to be cheesy or tongue-in-cheek, but it’s not meant to be taken desperately seriously, either. It’s a load of people having a very good time – that’s what it’s all about.
Sean: It certainly sounds like a fun record. Did you have a good time when you were making it?
Andy: It was a good laugh. My parents had gone away for a month, so I was house sitting. They’ve got a big front room and some very understanding neighbours. We moved in with all our equipment. On day one, we didn’t have any songs, but by day three, we had nine. That’s how The Red Inspectors thing all started. We weren’t planning on releasing an album, but then Eddie Piller from the Acid Jazz label heard it, loved it and wanted to put it out. It was at that point that we had to think of titles for all the songs and a name for the band!
Sean: So, where did the name The Red Inspectors from come?
Andy: We wanted something that sounded vaguely hip and happening, but also sounded like the pseudonyms of well-known bands that recorded under different names for the KPM Music Library. The Pretty Things were called The Electric Banana.
Sean: Your last solo record, the mini album 41, was one of my favourite releases of last year. It was a bit of a departure from your usual sound, wasn’t it? For a start, you sang on a lot of it, rather than using guest vocalists.
Andy: I was halfway through recording a proper album and I was fed up with it. I’d been out on the road with Weller a lot, which wasn’t conducive to finishing projects that I’d started – especially when you’re working with lots of disparate people. When I came back off tour, I had all these ideas for songs and I recorded them really quickly. I took the new tunes to Acid Jazz and they put them out as a mini album.
Sean: My favourite track on 41 is Centre of Attention – I sometimes play it when I’m DJing. I think it sounds like New Order meets The Jam.
Andy: It reminds me of some bleak records from the ‘80s that I liked – early Pet Shop Boys stuff. West End Girls is an amazing record. There’s also a record from Denmark called My Girl and Me by Gangway. I heard it in France when I was on holiday with my mum and dad – I loved it, but it took me ages to find a copy. It’s an unassuming, bleak, indie-disco record. I’d always wanted to make a track like that, using old drum machine samples. Centre of Attention was inspired by a dreadful party I went to, where there was this guy who was an absolute arse wipe. He was the sort of person who’d hand round his business cards at a wedding reception. He really rubbed me and my other half up the wrong way. That’s where the lyric came from – it’s following in the tradition of Blur’s Charmless Man. One of the things about being in the music business is that you meet people who you wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire – the trick is to ignore them, or write a song about them.
Sean: As a Britpop veteran – you started the Blow Up club night and you were Blur’s DJ on the Parklife tour – what’s your take on the current UK music scene? Is rock and roll dead?
Andy: It’s a tough call – everyone talks about the death of rock and roll. Fair enough, but there is
an environment now where it’s perfectly possible to get up and do it at an age when previously people would’ve said; ‘shut up, granddad’. One of my favourite bands around at the moment are called Rotifer – Robert Rotifer is an Austrian émigré who came to London for the first time in 1982, when he was 12, found himself on Canvey Island and fell in love with London and the whole mod thing. When he plays live, he’s got Ian Button from Death In Vegas on drums and Darren Hayman of Hefner playing bass for him. The noise they make as Rotifer is brilliant – they’ve just brought out on album called The Hosting Couple, on AED, which is Edywn Collins’s record label. They’re old people, playing music for old people – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Sean: Do you think we’ll ever see a musical movement like Britpop, which captured the imagination of the public, ever again? Why did it take off?
Andy: If you went into it wholeheartedly with a spirit of fun and enjoyment, you could have a marvellous time. For a lot of people who are into music as an intellectual pursuit, they seem to think that because Britpop was retro and looking backwards that somehow it didn’t have any sort of relevance to the continuation of modern music. I actually think Britpop as a term was a bit of a misnomer because around the time that all that music was being made, there were bands like Stereolab who were quite retro-futurist. The Big Beat scene had its roots in Britpop, too. Britpop allowed a sort of playfulness, colourfulness and boisterous that hadn’t been trendy for a number of years.
Sean: A lot of your music has a definite ‘60s influence to it. Why does that era of music appeal to you so much?
Andy: When I was growing up, I couldn’t stand a lot of the ‘80s music – it was insipid and boring. So, I harked back to a generation that was a bit more exciting. Everything was new then and there weren’t any rules. Everything was made with the expectation that it would be a massive hit – even funny little Northern Soul records had big fuck off orchestras on them. There’s an energy that comes across. That’s why I fell in love with the ‘60s. I used to buy cheap ‘60s 7in singles from Watford Market – the ‘60s stuff was desperately unfashionable at that time. I loved all the exotic looking record labels and bands with amazing names like John’s Children, The Artwoods and The Eyes – they spoke to me in a way that ‘80s music didn’t. People who are young now look back on the ‘80s as some kind of great, innocent age – it makes me laugh like a drain. The ‘80s was a horrible, cynical time. It wasn’t until about 1984 when I found contemporary music that I was happy to listen to – The Smiths, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Prisoners, Thee Milkshakes, The Godfathers, The Colourfield and Julian Cope. There was an excitement there that was missing from something like Dire Straits’s Brothers In Arms!
Sean: Do you still collect records?
Andy: I do like to buy a lot of records. Financially, it’s become increasingly hard – eBay is both a blessing and a curse. If you trawl eBay enough you’ll find what you’re looking for, but at big prices. I miss the old days of going into a record shop, finding something interesting and taking a punt on it.
Sean: You used to DJ as a student at Lampeter University, in Wales, didn’t you?
Andy: I had two things that nobody else had – I had a massive collection of records that sounded really good and I had a car. I used to drive to Andy’s Records in Aberystwyth and hassle him to get me promos to play at the Student Union discos. I played a mixture of ‘60s and indie stuff. When I started, it was brilliant – it was before the jackboot of dance music ground down the soul of a generation of people.
Sean: So what’s next for Andy Lewis? You’ve been working on your third long-player South Herts Symphony – a sort of concept album – haven’t you?
Andy: Well, this could be the only interview where I talk about the great, lost Andy Lewis album! I’ve decided to scrap it – not because I’ve fallen out of love with the idea, but because I started making it about four years ago and since then a lot of the sounds and the song structures that were on it are now being done by other artists – people would think I was coming in on the coattails of something else. Towards the end of last year, I decided I wasn’t enthusiastic about following it through. I’ve now got new ideas, so I’ve abandoned it, but I’m also going back to the songs to see which ones could still work. Nowadays, with downloads, there’s a sense that the album as we know it is dead. I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. There are so many people that are trying to breathe life into the rotting corpse of the album – I can’t think of many albums that have come out recently that are better than the sum of their parts.
Sean: Paul Weller is still making good albums, though, isn’t he? His last three have been great.
Andy: They’re bodies of work that take you on a trip – 22 Dreams is a little bit like stumbling out of the studio in a blissed-out haze of a summer morning, while Wake Up The Nation is a bit like a drunken night out on tour with the Paul Weller band. 1n 2008/2009, if you’d have bumped into us in a hotel bar, Wake Up The Nation would’ve been the soundtrack to that! Sonik Kicks is the sound of someone getting his head straight and discovering that you don’t have to get fucked up to make great records. It’s a record that you have to listen to as a whole, but each song is strong enough to listen to on its own. There are a couple of tracks on Sonik Kicks that I think are up there with the best things Weller’s ever done.
Sean: So could we see a new Andy Lewis album in 2012?
Andy: There’s enough material around to make a record that could com
e out this year, but to be honest, I want to give The Red Inspectors album a bit of breathing space. I think it’s a record that could be a bit of a slow burner – it’s already featuring on people’s albums of the year list. I’ve got a new single coming out at the end of the month – The Best of Days, which features Wesley Doyle on vocals – he was the singer in Pimlico.
Sean: Who would you most like to collaborate with?
Andy: I’d love to work with Corinne Bailey Rae and make an out and out, good time soul, funk, psyche, prog and pop album. I’d also like to work with Richard Hawley and I’d love to try and do something with Scott Walker, but he’d never do it in a million years. I’d like to think that he’s sent his butler out to go and buy a copy of The Red Inspectors album!
Andy Lewis’s new single, The Best of Days, featuring Wesley Doyle on vocals, will be released on April 23, on the Acid Jazz label. The flipside will feature the irresistible instrumental track Barney’s Theme, which has a video made by Andy’s wife, Liz Lewis.
You can see the film below:
The Red Inspectors album Are We The Red Inspectors? Are We? is out now on Acid Jazz.