‘I wanted to write some songs that would fit on a Chesterfields record – that was a good challenge’

The Chesterfields at The Black Sheep Bar, Ryde, Isle of Wight – Sept 2022. Andy Strickland is on the left.
Photo: Sean Hannam

 

I first met singer/guitarist Andy Strickland in 1987, on the Isle of Wight, at his family home in Ryde, when I was 13.

My dad, show business journalist, John Hannam, was interviewing him for a local newspaper article about his jangly indie-pop band The Caretaker Race, who’d just released their debut single, Somewhere On Sea. Prior to that, he’d been in Creation Records act The Loft.

I’d tagged along, because, like my dad, I loved the song, but I was also keen to meet Andy – as well as being in a band, he was a music journalist, which was my dream job.

This interview with The Caretaker Race, by John Hannam, originally appeared in the Isle of Wight Weekly Post, in 1987.

Now, on a late afternoon in July 2022 – 35 years after our first encounter – I’m interviewing Andy, and we’re somewhere on sea, in a Ryde hotel bar. But, rather than The Caretaker Race, who split in 1991, we’re actually here to talk about his latest project, playing guitar in Yeovil-based The Chesterfields – another indie-pop band who formed in the ‘80s, and who have just made a brand new album, New Modern Homes. Although this isn’t the first time Andy has been part of the group…

“I played with them a bit in the early days, after The Loft split,” he says, over a pint of Isle of Wight-brewed ale.

“I kind of knew them, because they’d come to a couple of gigs we’d done down in Bristol. I think they booked us for a gig, which was about a week after we’d split up. That was the first gig The Loft didn’t do – Simon [Barber – bass and vocals], who’s still in The Chesterfields, ran a little club in Sherborne, Dorset. It was by the railway station and was called The Electric Broom Cupboard.

“I’d also interviewed the band for Record Mirror. I’d started The Caretaker Race, but, in 1987, Simon rang me up and said, ‘This is a bit of a long shot, but we’ve just got rid of our guitarist – do you fancy standing in?’

‘We played on the second stage at Glastonbury in ’87. Halfway through the set, I realised my guitar lead wasn’t long enough – I’d never played on a stage that big’

“I didn’t know how it would work, as they were based a long way away from where I was, but then Simon said, ‘The first gig’s Glastonbury Festival and it’s in three weeks…’

“I said, ‘Oh – that’s interesting…’ He said the next night they were playing an Oxford ball with Desmond Dekker… so he kind of lured me in with the promise of decent gigs.”

And how were the shows? “They were great. We played on the second stage at Glastonbury in ’87. Halfway through the set, I realised my guitar lead wasn’t long enough – I’d never played on a stage that big. By the fourth song in, I was required to do some backing vocals and, as I marched to the microphone, I couldn’t get there – the roadie picked my amp up, charged towards me and plonked it down so I could do the final ‘bah-bah-bah’, or whatever it was.

“I did a little tour with them, but then they got Simon’s brother in, who was a really good guitar player. I didn’t play with them again until recent years.”

The Chesterfields

Q&A

So, how did you end up rejoining The Chesterfields?

Andy Strickland: Simon, Helen [Stickland – guitar and vocals] and Rob [Parry – drums] were playing in bands around the West Country and they started doing a couple of Chesterfields songs, which went down really well. I saw them and said to Simon, ‘If there’s an appetite for it, you should do it’.

‘We played with The Primitives at The Knitting Factory, in Brooklyn, New York – it was sold out, it was hot and the crowd loved it. It was fantastic’

He was always reluctant to do it, because Davey [Dave Goldsworthy], the original singer and frontman, died in 2003 – he was killed in a hit and run. Simon didn’t want to do anything that might upset anyone, but, eventually, he asked the family and we did a little UK tour in 2019, which went really well.

Before that, in 2016, we got asked to go and play in New York, at the New York Pop Fest – that was brilliant. We played with The Primitives at The Knitting Factory, in Brooklyn – it was sold out, it was hot and the crowd loved it. It was fantastic. The crowd was a young one, which was really odd.

Chesterfield band member Helen’s surname is Stickland. That must be a bit confusing…

AS: Yes – it’s not a typo and we’re not related. Although her husband did used to live on the Isle of Wight, which is even more confusing.

So, now there’s a new Chesterfields album – New Modern Homes…

AS: After the 2019 tour, we thought there might be an appetite for a new record, and then while we were talking about it, lockdown happened, which gave us an opportunity to write some songs.

John Parish (PJ Harvey) co-produced it…

AS: Yes – he produced the first Chesterfields album, back in the day, and he also produced some of my early Caretaker Race records, so we all knew him. We talked about what we were going to do with this record – we knew we were going to record it in Somerset.

There’s a studio next to Wookey Hole called Axe and Trap, which is run by a great guy called Ben Turner. We started recording there last summer and John came down for a couple of days.

We were so relaxed and we thought we were doing demos, but John said they sounded great and that he would mix them at his place, with a few little overdubs. We went to John’s studio in Bristol in November last year. We were lucky to get a really good studio and great engineers. John had a two-week gap and we fitted into it.

The first single, Our Songbird Has Gone, came out on 7in vinyl…

AS: The first batch that went up on Bandcamp sold out in 10 hours.

‘Lindy Morrison from The Go-Betweens heard the song and got in touch. She said, ‘I love this! Who are you guys?’

Part of the lyrics feature a list of bands and acts that influenced The Chesterfields, including The Go-Betweens, The Smiths, The Fall, Orange Juice, The House of Love, Aztec Camera, Gang of Four…

AS: It’s an actual list – a few years after Davy died, his widow sent Simon some bits and pieces. One of the things she sent him was a little book that’s mentioned in the song. It had lyrics and drawings in it and a list of Davy’s favourite bands.

Lindy Morrison from The Go-Betweens heard the song and got in touch. She said, ‘I love this! Who are you guys?’ They were one of Davy’s absolute favourites. A few of the other bands who are mentioned in the song, like The Darling Buds and The June Brides, have also been in touch.

You’ve written three of the songs on the album: You’re Ace From Space, Mary’s Got A Gun and Postpone The Revolution. Were they all written for the new record?

AS: They were. I’m writing bits and pieces all the time, but I wanted to write some songs that would fit on a Chesterfields record. That was a good challenge and, to some extent, I think it’s worked. Certainly John thought they fitted well – he would’ve said if they didn’t.  It also gave me a chance to sing. Helen also wrote a song, so there’s three different writers and singers on the album, which is quite unusual these days.

What inspired You’re Ace From Space?

AS: I think it came from craving some freedom during lockdown – imagine just being up there, in space, on your own for a bit. It was a bit of space – literally.

‘Postpone The Revolution is a song about young people not really giving a shit. Why aren’t they out there, getting rid of this Government?

Mary’s Got A Gun is a story song, about two characters – Mary and Vinny…

AS: Yeah – I just started playing the guitar riff one day and I came up with the idea of Mary having a gun and thought, ‘Why would she have a gun?’ So I came up with a story about her buying it, from a book dealer in Hay-on-Wye, and hooking up with this guy who had a van, and they’ve got a secret hiding place…

I’ve always wanted to go to Hay-on-Wye and visit the bookshops…

AS: I’ve never been, but now I know you can buy an illicit firearm there, I’m very keen to go…

What about Postpone The Revolution?

AS: It’s a song about young people not really giving a shit. Why aren’t they out there, getting rid of this Government? I occasionally say to my son, ‘When I was your age, I was marching for X, Y and Z…’

It’s another of your songs that mentions the sea. I was listening to The Caretaker Race album, Hangover Square, recently. That has quite a few songs on it that mention the sea and seaside towns. That record still stands up today… 

AS: That’s very kind of you to say so. Stephen Street did it and we were a good band.

That album reminds me of The Smiths at times. I’ve Seen A Thing Or Two sounds like Back To The Old House – the guitar on it is very Johnny Marr… And so is the guitar on You Always Hurt (The One You Kick)…

AS: Yeah – that’s very Johnny Marr. Stephen Street didn’t say we’d gone too far… but he did play the album to Morrissey. The other guitarist in The Caretaker Race, Andy Deevey, used an Echoplex. I’ve Seen A Thing Or Two was written about a church in Ryde that you come past on the train. There’s a reverse echo on it – Stephen played it to Morrissey and he was like, ‘Oh, what’s that? How did you do that?’

I remember Stephen telling me that Morrissey was very much taken with Andy’s Echoplex. It sounds like a ghostly buzzsaw thing going on in the background.

The Chesterfields

Let’s go back to The Chesterfields. So, you’re pleased with the new album?

AS: Yeah – really pleased. It’s the first thing I’ve recorded for so many years, so to have three songs on it and for it to sound so good… There’s some lovely guitar playing on it – not just mine. Helen’s great – she plays very punk-rock, but writes these really beautiful little lines. It’s great fun playing with her.

One of my favourite songs on the album is Mr Wilson Goes To Norway...

AS: We’ve got a great video for it. Purely by coincidence, the lad called James [Harvey],who did the video for Our Songbird Has Gone, was going to Norway a few weeks later, so we got him to do some travelogue stuff for it, while we just larked around in a deserted high street in Sherborne, Dorset.

‘I’m thinking about doing a solo EP next year, but I need a kick up the arse…’

A couple of years ago, we had an idea about playing Indiefjord in Norway. Simon came up with that song and we said, ‘Well, if they’re not going to invite us to play after this video and this song, then we’re never going to get invited…’

Earlier you said that you write a lot of songs, so do you think you might put a solo record out?

AS: I think I will. I’m thinking about doing a solo EP next year. Given that there’s all this Chesterfields stuff going on and there’s also some Loft stuff coming out… I need a kick up the arse to make me finish stuff. I was watching Get Back – George Harrison is going on about how John and Paul are always telling him to finish stuff… I’m a bad finisher, unless I’ve got a deadline.

I’ve got lots of stuff. I pick up the guitar every day, play something and stick it on my phone. My partner gets a bit annoyed – especially if we’ve just gone to bed and I say, ‘Hang on – I’ll be back in five minutes…’ I’m just lying there and a middle eight pops into my head.

You said there’s some Loft stuff coming out…

AS: Yeah – Ghost Trains & Country Lanes is coming out on vinyl in January. It came out last summer on CD, on Cherry Red.

It’s everything, basically – all the singles, all the Creation stuff, all the Radio 1 Janice Long sessions, the Marc Riley and Gideon Coe sessions, the single that we put out on Static Caravan about 15 years ago and a whole live gig from The Living Room, back in the day.

I think it’s 30 tracks – on triple vinyl.  When we heard it was going to be a triple, we said, ‘We can’t have that – we’re not Yes!’ But the guy who’s doing it, Ian [Allcock], who runs Optic Nerve, said, ‘Trust me – it will be great’. He managed to get all the stuff signed off by the BBC. It’s a mighty tome – on coloured vinyl with a booklet. It will be quite a package. You can preorder it now.

‘I did start writing a book. I’ve got the title. It’s called And Then I Punched Tom Jones’

Have you ever thought about writing a book on your time in the music industry, as a musician, but also a journalist?

AS: I did start writing one and I’ve got the title. It’s called And Then I Punched Tom Jones.

Did you punch him?

AS: I didn’t, actually, but I thought about it. I was interviewing him for about the third time. He’s one of those people who, when you turn the recorder on, they just talk and you barely have to ask them a question.

I was in a hotel suite – it was just me and him, and I started to lose concentration, because he was just talking, and talking and talking. My head started going and I was looking at him and I thought, ‘Tom Jones is sitting there, if I hit him now, really hard, he’ll probably go over the edge of that sofa’. I couldn’t get that thought out of my head. My mind just started to wander.

A few years later, I was in the pub with a bunch of guys from Loaded magazine and I mentioned it. They said they’d had a similar thing – that it was quite common. I don’t know if it’s like a minor version of shooting John Lennon or something – having an impact on someone famous and leaving your imprint.

The Chesterfields at The Black Sheep Bar, Ryde, Isle of Wight – Sept 2022. Photo: Sean Hannam.

 

I don’t think I ever had it with anyone else – in my Record Mirror days, I sat down and interviewed some big stars.

‘The Loft were the first Creation band on TV. We did The Oxford Road Show with China Crisis, Ultravox, Thompson Twins and Bronski Beat’

Was being a music journalist and also in a band a help or a hindrance?

AS: I don’t think it was a help, particularly. When The Loft were taking off, we did get a bit of stick – some of the reviews said we were a band of journalists and people assumed we had some sort of inside track, but we didn’t. We didn’t have a manager, a roadie or a driver – it was just us four, plus our mate, Danny Kelly. We were the first Creation band on TV – The Oxford Road Show. We were Janice Long’s ‘band to watch’ and we were on with China Crisis, Ultravox and Thompson Twins and Bronski Beat.

You were the only act who didn’t have synths…

AS: Yeah – we were. When word got out that we were going to be on it, the manager of The June Brides, who had been on the cover of the NME, rang me up in my little studenty house and said, ‘I hear you’re going on the telly’. I said, ‘Yeah – it’s amazing.’ He said, ‘I’d love to get The June Brides on – who do I need to talk to?’ I said, ‘I dunno’. But he said, ‘Oh c’mon, Andy – we’re all in this together. Who did you tap up?’

I said, ‘They just rang us and asked if we could do it’. He couldn’t believe it could be that easy.

We were in the right place at the right time, and Janice loved the band. She was such a big deal and she was so lovely. She got overshadowed by John Peel, but she did huge amounts for so many bands – The Chesterfields did sessions for her. She wasn’t one of those DJs who just wanted to be famous – she was all about the music.

New Modern Homes by The Chesterfields is out now on Mr Mellow’s Music. https://thechesterfields.bandcamp.com/album/new-modern-homes-2

The triple vinyl version of The Loft’s Ghost Trains & Country Lanes is released on Optic Nerve Recordings on January 20 next year. You can preorder it here.