I, Ludicrous Interviewed : the Underdogs Underdog prove ‘Dull is the New Interesting’
Louder Than War’s Ian Canty Talks to Will Hung, John Procter and Brett Martini from cult heroes, Peel faves and ‘the Underdogs Underdog’ I, Ludicrous .
I Ludicrous for me are a band that has just released the best waxing in their history “Dull Is The New Interesting” (reviewed here) but that’s not to denigrate their older material as there’s a wealth of nuggets there too. Martin (Brett Martini who was previously in great lost pop band Voice Of The Beehive) arranged the following interview which gave a good insight into the past present and future of the Ludicrous cult……
Before we get onto the new LP and other I Ludicrous business, can you tell me a bit about yourselves before you started the band? I notice on the reissue of “Damned, Damned, Damned”, there’s a recording Will made of them playing the 100 Club for the first time in 1976…did seeing the early excitement lead you to starting your own bands in that period and if so, do any recordings exist?
(Will Hung) Seeing the Damned and Sex Pistols in ’76 did have an impact on me, before that I despaired of ever seeing bands who played high energy music, I was a big fan of the Stooges and MC5 and the Damned especially were similar – I went to university in September 1976 and began to write songs and was involved in a couple of bands, we played a handful of student gigs but I never thought they had any long-term future and didn’t ever envisage being in a ‘proper band’, there is a cassette somewhere of those gigs.
(John Procter) Like the other two I was a small child in the 1960s and utterly obsessed with pop music and only ever had one ambition (still to be realised, sadly). I have never been able to understand why I encountered so few like-minded people. It wasn’t until punk came along that it became easier at least to attempt to fulfil this ambition, and in 1976 at university I formed a group called The Fink (the name came to me in a dream). We never played live, as when we got our first booking our drummer ran away in fear. Some recordings of rehearsals do exist but they are unlistenable. However, I have revived a couple of the numbers and they may be re-fashioned in the I, Ludicrous style. As an aside, I had a dream only last night that Will and Brett formed a new band called The Gawks (!) with a bunch of Jamaican ska musicians. I was very peripheral to this venture, but they invited me to join them on the woodblock.
Moving along to the early years of I Ludicrous, how did you end up starting the band in the first place? Did you have an aim of what you wanted to achieve? How is the band different then from now?
(Will Hung) When I returned to London I had a friend called Max Couper who was in a band called The Sunset Boys, who branded themselves country-punks, they were guitar and drums and sang songs about cotton-picking and life in the deep south (US) my favourite being ‘Who stole the lock off the henhouse door’. They were hilarious and I began writing some lyrics for them, they became a more conventional band and a couple of singles were released including Disco Girls which I wrote, this is a forgotten nugget, Captain Sensible produced and played keyboards on it, sadly I don’t think I have a copy, and I don’t think many were sold. I carried on writing words for Max, after The Sunset Boys broke up. He was an installation and performance artist, an LP was released by him on which I contributed some words, this was marketed as an art work rather than a music record, my involvement with Max meant I carried on writing songs/poems but the only one that made it to the I, ludicrous was My Baby’s Got Jet Lag After meeting John at Textline, we began writing songs together, our vision was along the lines ‘do you think we can get away with this’ . Early stuff such as M25, A Pop’s Fan Dream, I suppose were a combination of silliness and trying to do something different, we were both big fans of the Fall and we loved their inventiveness and we tried to copy that, as we wrote more stuff the songs became more ‘conventional’ in structure. Preposterous Tales came out of the blue, I’d been playing around with the lyrics for months, it started as a spoken piece essay that became condensed into a series of one line summaries to a riff John had worked out, it just came together in one of those magical moments which you can’t really explain, after we’d worked it out we just laughed our heads off for 10 minutes
(John Procter) In brief, Will and I were at a John Cooper Clarke gig and Will told me that a mate of his had asked him to do a support slot at a forthcoming gig. I asked him what he intended to do seeing as he had, as far as I knew, no musical ability whatsoever, and he said he would just stand on stage and tell the audience what he had done at work that day. I thought this sounded great, but insisted that he would need some musical accompaniment which I could provide as I had a guitar, a drum machine, and a small Casio keyboard. And that formed the basis of our sound, which has changed little since. I don’t think the original booking ever materialised, but the connections led to our first series of gigs at The Enterprise.
I Ludicrous were quite involved in that whole football fanzine scene of the late 80s/early 90s, how do you see the game now? Has it become a middle class pursuit?
(Will Hung) Our shared interest of Crystal Palace led to us writing a football song ‘3 English Football Grounds ‘ and there were football references in other songs, we were approached by a music fanzine to do the flexi-single, we never consciously tried to attach ourselves to football, in fact we were advised not to do so because at the time football was unfashionable and associated with hooliganism, but we carried on putting references into songs because that’s what interested us, my interest in cricket led to ‘kick down the stumps’ written after a couple of beers on the way home from a village match
(John Procter) Not sure about middle-class; I struggle to identify class anywhere to be honest. I tend to agree with Grayson Perry that British society is defined more by differences in taste than class. But that aside, I do wonder how so many people manage to pay to watch Premier League football week in week out. And while it is nice to see Palace riding high I prefer non-league football.
What were the best gigs/best bands you played with in the early days of the band? Who gave you the most help along the way?
(John Proctor) Mark E Smith obviously gave us a great boost. Attila the Stockbroker has always looked after us, always making sure we get paid (unless it’s a benefit gig). The long forgotten Dubious Brothers also gave us some interesting support slots. We also had a high-profile booking with some group called Voice of the Beehive.
A few years after “Voice of the Beehive” split up I encouraged Will & John to try & start writing again as they hadn’t really been doing anything for about 2 years. They had an EP out called “Dirty Washing” & played a session for Tom Robinson on BBC 6 Music. I played on the session & basically stayed. I had already been a big fan & being in a band with your best mates seemed like a good idea. It was a question of progression really & adding the bass guitar & extra writing & vocals meant that John could free himself up a bit & play some more adventurous guitar parts. It seems to have worked quite well so far while maintaining the originality of I,Ludicrous.
(Will Hung) After our initial 15 minutes of fame in 1988-89 our material became more mainstream, john and I both really wanted to be in a punk band, we also never went full time both choosing to keep our jobs and carry on a ‘normal’ life rather than full-time, I suppose at the time I would have liked to have experienced life on the road but in hindsight I’m glad we carried on as we did because: a, we are still friends and b we’ve both had good lives outside music
The new LP “Dull Is The New Intertesting” seems to me to be a career peak for the band….why do you think it has all come together at this time? It’s been a long time since the last record, have you been stockpiling these songs to make a great LP?
(John) Brett Martini joining the group has given us a kick up the backside. We haven’t been stockpiling, we just happen to have creative bursts that seem to coincide with sun-spot activity (i.e. every eleven years). We also have enough stuff, just about, for another new album hot on the heels of this one.
(Will) Moving on to Dull…..our first release for about 6 years…. It’s a fulfilment of the latest stage of the band after martin brett joined, martin is a great enthusiast of the band (I’ve known him for nearly 40 years and he was always a fan of us) and has made us a bit more commercial without selling out, a number of the songs on the album he wrote the music to such as Cheer-up.
“Clerking Til I Die” is a great song which seems to sum up the office based life of lots of folk (me included)…it’s a subject you have touched on before, is it all from personal experience? It made me think of the Kinks, are they an influence?
(Will) Clerking til I die is, I suppose, a tribute to office workers, another species that is dying out, I was inspired to write this when an old office colleague died, he was the funniest person I ever worked with and quite a lot of his humour is in the I, ludicrous, he was always joking about being a clerk and how dull it was, The Kinks comparison is very flattering.
(John) I’ve always been a huge fan of the Kinks, always used to buy their singles. I recall a music critic somewhere once posing the question what would have happened if we hadn’t had the Beatles? His answer: it wouldn’t have mattered, we had the Kinks. Working in an office provides inspiration, but it is a drawback in that is also one of the reasons we are so slow in getting things recorded.
(Brett Martini) “Clerking Til I Die” is a great song which seems to sum up the office based life of lots of folk (me included)…it’s a subject you have touched on before, is it all from personal experience? It made me think of the Kinks, are they an influence.
Ray Davies is a genius so it’s great to be compared with him. I, Ludicrous are definitely in that London mould of observational songwriting. “Clerking Til I Die” is black humour which the band are very fond of. It’s a theme that runs through most of our songs.
Is “George Jenkins” based on a real person?
(Will) George Jenkins, Opportunity Knocks!… George Jenkins is a story of a man I met whilst was working for the Office for National Statistics in an old mining village in the Rhonnda, its basically about meeting a wonderful funny old man and a tribute to the older generation of workers.
How did you come to cover Third World War’s “Ascension Day”? It’s a somewhat daft question but as you do a great job with that is there any other song you would like to cover?
(Will) Ascension day is a song I first heard in the early 1970s I bought The Third World war album on spec from a record shop in Croydon and for a time I loved that album – I had completely forgotten about it until I saw it on You Tube a few years ago, we’ve done a few covers in the past ‘Glad all over’ ‘Where were you’ (Mekons), we’ve also just been playing around with a punk version of Roxy Music’s Ladytron, whether we do anymore I can’t say, I’d like to do 96 Tears and other Roxy songs but I have to persuade the others
(Brett) Too many to mention really but it’s always good to cover a song most people are unlikely to know like “Ascension Day” or maybe an obscure Captain Beefheart song ?
(John) I think you should only attempt a cover if you think you can improve on the original, so it is unlikely you would ever cover a song you actually like. Mind you, we’ve been playing a pretty nifty version of Ladytron in rehearsals recently, and it would be daft to imagine anyone could improve on the original of that. Can’t speak for Ascension Day, that was Will’s idea, though I’m happy enough with our version. I can’t think of anything else I would like us to cover, but I would love The Fall to cover “Excerpt from a Teenage Opera”.You can imagine it: “Grocer Jack, Grocer Jack-ah, get off your back, go into town, don’t let them down, oh no, no”. It all sounds very Fall-esque to me.
What’s next for I Ludicrous in the way of gigs and recordings?
(Will) What’s next? – some new songs on YouTube, possibly a new album next year as we have quite a few songs, we’ll keep plugging away for a while yet..
John) New album asap. Let’s kick this 11-year hiatus habit! And see you in Brighton on October 17th at the Green Door Store.
(Brett Martini) “George Jenkins” will be a Christmas single with a video & will come out at the end of October. It will definitely go straight in at number one & will knock Cliff off the top which will be very amusing. The songwriting is prolific at the moment so a new album next year with a retrospective album of the bands career later in the year to celebrate 30 years in show business. We would love to play some festivals / gigs in the summer of 2016 so if you want us to play you know where we are.
Catch the band at the Green Door Store Brighton on 17th October 2015 and “Dull Is The New Interesting” is available via Cherry Red CD and download
All words Ian Canty whose author profile is here.