Interview: The Danse Society
The Danse Society – Post Punk, Dark Wave, Alternative, Goth band from Barnsley (Members: Vocalist – Jonathan ‘J’ Cridford, Guitarist – Elliot Wheeler, Bass – Ade Clark, Keyboards – Darran Guy, Drums – Paul “Gigi” Gilmartin). Paul Gilmartin – original and founder member of The Danse Society – he gave the band its name. The unique and powerful drummer – his distinctive style and rhythms have been the influences for many musicians since the 80s. The Danse Society was formed in early 80s and have been reformed in the last few years. Sophie Luchinsky talked to Paul Gilmartin to know the history of the creation of The Danse Society and more.
“Louder Than War: Why did you decide to start The Danse Society as a band?”
“Paul Gilmartin: Well I can actually tell you that it was me who decide to form The Danse Society. It was my idea, not that I am boasting or anything. This is how it occurred: I was in a band called ‘Y’ with Steve Rawlings on vocals. We had a track on the successful South Yorkshire bands compilation album called ‘Bouquet of Steel’ together with bands such as the Comsat Angels, Artery, I’m So Hollow, Stunt Kites, Vendino Pact and many more.
Sheffield had a good music scene and we were from Barnsley 20 minutes down the road, so we jumped on to that bandwagon. Marcus Thereby, the owner of the PAX music label, put out the compilation and he later became The Danse Society’s manager before Jazz Summers. Marcus didn’t get as much credit as he really deserved. Although I formed The Danse Society I did not start Y…. I came in last but soon realised this was going to be a difficult thing to take forward to the next level.
We did OK but a band can’t live on looks alone. We needed new blood and new ideas. Musically we had dried up. To move the story along, I was at the guitarist’s house and he had a tape from these two guys in Barnsley called Lips X. As soon as I heard it I said to myself “that’s what we are missing!”. They had that melancholy sound that I loved. I convinced our guitarist he was better off on bass than guitar, which is a difficult thing to do, but it was for the best. I said to him that if he went on to bass we could have two keyboard players. It looked good as well and you can’t get enough keys in my book. The sad part is that the current bass player had to go to make way so we talked it over, arranged a meeting and we joined forces. Put it this way – nobody thought it was a bad idea because we all agreed to do it!”
“Louder Than War: You are an original and founder member of The Danse Society and you gave the band its name. What is the meaning behind the band’s name and how did it come about?”
“Paul Gilmartin: Just as I formed the band, it was me that gave the band its name. It’s a beautiful story and it makes people cry when I tell them….just kidding, you’ll have to forgive me for making stuff sound more exciting than it sometimes is.
For the record, when Lips X and Y joined forces we called ourselves Danse Crazy, not Danse Society.
Anyway, we were playing at Sheffield Uni and they put you upstairs somewhere as your dressing room. Being young kids and from Barnsley we tended to nosey about, wandering about the place, and Steve and I are skulking about. While we were doing this I read a notice board which said that there was going to be a meeting of the Dance Society to be held in room 17 on such and such a date and time. I said to Steve that would make a better name than Danse Crazy. Steve agreed, saying put “The” in front and “Dance” spelled with an “s” as you see it today. Bingo! The Danse Society name was born.
We told Lyndon – he liked it and we changed the name. We were actually called Danse Crazy when we did our first recording. In terms of personnel, Tim [Wright] joined later after Paul Hampshire left with Patters [Dave Patrick], the bass player, to go down to London to work with Cuddly Toys (not as in kids’ toys, but the band, who were big in Japan as the song goes).
It is probably also worth talking a little about why we reformed.
In 2010 Dave Whittaker (Danse Society keys from ‘84 to ‘87 ), and who replaced Lyndon, got in touch again. He had been very successful in TV music for shows such as Emmerdale Farm, Heartbat, Though the Keyhole – loads of popular UK TV shows. Just to think, all those years listening to those tunes on the TV at my nan’s, I never knew it was Dave…….
He had his own studio and I had just come out of a six month stint in rehab so I had time on my hands. We got into making some music again and realised we were creating some good stuff. We thought about reforming the band again and making an album. I asked Tim but he was not interested. I also asked Nash [Paul Nash] – he was hesitant, but when I told him about Steve, he wanted ‘in’. On paper it all looked easy. A Facebook campaign by long-time fan Alison Howells helped a lot. The interest was there but unfortunately Steve did one track and never came back to finish it. I’ve used different vocals on the last three albums by the way. We now have our fourth album with Jay [Jon Cridford] and he’s the nearest to Steve I can get. At last we are complete.”
“Louder Than War: Could you tell me about your songs, their meaning and the main idea of the albums?”
“Paul Gilmartin: I am an original and founder member of The Danse Society and the driving force that keeps it going with my new crew, a bit like the mother in Alien on the Nostromo spaceship. There is only me left from the old band, but in spirit it’s not that much different. The new band has the same excitement and passion for the music as the old one. It feels so right – each has a different style and influence which we combine and it seems to work again just like the old band did.”
“Louder Than War: Could you please tell me about your latest album?”
“Paul Gilmartin: Our latest album? It’s work in progress at the moment and it features a new vocalist, front man Jay [Jonathan Cridford]. We have completed just one track with vocals on called ‘Tears’ which is so commercial 80s post punk it’s unreal. I’ve got a good feeling about this album – like it’s the sort of the proper 4th Danse Society album we should have made, not the 7th. Originally it was going to be a six track album like our first album, Seduction in ‘83 but we found some tracks we did at a recorded rehearsal without vocals, just us playing.
When we had another listen to them recently we thought they had so much character and feel it was a shame to not use them. In fact it’s more or less how we used to record in the old days – you know, GET IN A ROOM AND FEED OF EACH OTHER, proper old school music making.
Looking at where I am now I’m so lucky to get that chemistry twice – especially in the twilight of a rock and roll career. Actually, forget I said ‘twilight’….if the Stones can still produce, so can we. We are young compared to Keith Richards and the other boys in the Stones. I used to think ‘Why the fuck do these old bands keep going?’ when I was out of the loop musically speaking. Now I know why – it’s infectious making music – and I know why I was so unhappy when I wasn’t making musical vibes.
I can’t see me getting a greenhouse and growing tomatoes. Time marches on, so you want to make your mark when you can. When you have experienced this feeling you will know what I am talking about.
The latest album is probably up to ten tracks now. For an album title we got some options: Deadly Sins, Seven Deadly Sins or Monolith, we don’t know which yet. It may have to go down to a vote process with the band.
If you want to know about our last album, Reincarnated, I feel it should have got more attention than it did. It has some astounding dark moments and it’s up there with the best of them. It has seven old reworked Danse Society tracks and seven new ones. The vocals are by Bri Shaughnessy, the singer from Oliver/Dawson Saxon and Seventh Son. He’s from the rock world but it’s Danse Society music. It is well worth a listen and it works.
It also has the only track Steve Rawlings did when he came over in 2010 – a sort of bonus track and what should have been an entire album by him in an ideal world. It’s common knowledge we used a female vocal but it never really worked. I think Danse Society needed a male vocal – it was a mistake and it backfired, for more than just musical reasons, but that’s another story.”
“Louder Than War: Is it you who writes the songs and lyrics?”
“Paul Gilmartin: Yeah, I write the words and I suppose I have had more than the usual drummer’s input into the music. Again, I have been very lucky having people round me who can translate mad ideas into sounds – Change of Skin and Scarey Tales were mostly written by Dave Whittaker and me. The last one, Reincarnated, was with new guitarist Elliot Wheeler, Dave and me.
The new one is a product of the entire band. I’ve got a feeling its gonna get messy, like the old days where there are five producers in the room. I know Ade, our bass player, is very experienced in the studio, so it’s going to be interesting. Darran has a good 80s ear for the keys and I kind of promised I would keep my nose out of this one. Dave is going to produce it so I reckon the best way round it is to give Dave the final say if we are undecided and starting to squabble. Musicians in disagreement over artistic control? Never! Is the Pope Catholic? You would not be making a real album if there were not different points of view and arguments….unless you are a duo like a Mr and Mrs Danse Society. In that case the woman would have the final say because she lives in your house and you may find the locks changed and no dinner if the vocals are too low.”
“Louder Than War: Could you tell me about the most definitive songs on your last album? Can you explain their meaning?”
“Paul Gilmartin: The most definitive songs for me on the last album? Wow… I like them all.
Message in the Wind I think is just an anthem, a massive song. The vocals, the guitar and synth are just majestic. I don’t think I have heard anything like it – it’s unique but it’s not definitive Danse Society like some of the others are.
I would say Séance and Heresy – its Joy Division/Danse Society despair. I like the words as well “captured souls in a pool of tears, touch my hand touch my skin, minutes last forever in eternity“…..all together now…”GOD HAS ABVANDONED ME, SÉANCE AND HERESY”. Bri sings them amazingly well, Elliot’s guitar weeps and then Dave goes and does his bit at the end. It’s like I was saying earlier – interpreting ideas for me because I wanted a Dune-type sound. I said “Imagine sand” – you know the sci-fi movie – and God damn he just goes and gets that, it’s beautiful.
More than Dreams is another great song. It’s The Cult meets The Killers meets mad preacher Billy Sunday. I also think Reincarnated, the title track, is good – it’s old Danse Society, but with a 21st century make over. It’s up there with all Danse Society instrumentals – our re-working of an old favourite, Belief, is great. I’d like to take this opportunity, if I may, of thanking our good friend Bari Goddard – he was in an 80s band, The Knives – for making a fantastic video for us and also Martin Alward for Red Light (Shine) video. It gave the whole album a semi-religious vibe, like a theme that you can sense – a big soundscape because all the tracks run into each other with effects.
Jezebel is a big track. I love the Fender Rhodes piano in it, very ‘70s.
You see, we must rejoice when the hole is filled in – you get your pardon, you get your peace, for all tormented souls out there.
So, to summarise, Reincarnated was a journey of a tormented mind: good/bad, love/hate, death/resurrection/the after-life, the sadness and pain of it all.
There is no room on my albums for kinky shit, just the good old dark gloom and doom, the meat and veg for anybody kneeling down by the bed, hands in prayer, wind howling, rain lashing the window and the church bell ringing out, then you look up at the rope you’re going to hang yourself on – you get the picture now.”
“Louder Than War: The Danse Society is a goth punk/rock band. Why’d you call yourself Goth Punk Rock?”
“Paul Gilmartin: I don’t call us goth. I don’t call us punk. I go for post punk/goth/dark wave/electro……I can’t really answer this because there are so many genres sub-divided and divided again.
These days it’s difficult and I lose track anyway and if I describe us as that, somebody will say we are not blah blah – it’s not worth arguing the toss over. Therefore I reckon the music papers of the time got it right when we signed with Arista Records back in the 80s. It was a great headline: Overrated doom rockers Danse Society signed a deal for more money than they are worth – shock horror! I would say we are post punk or came through with that new wave. You could even describe us as an indie alternative band, that cap fits as well. I hold journalists responsible for all this – I mean before all this nonsense there was just progressive rock, soul and pop, then culture genres such as ska etc….oh God, see? We’re off again, where does it stop? It’s all music, pass the whiskey.”
“Louder Than War: Could you please tell me more about bands that influenced you? What do you think about them?”
“Paul Gilmartin: Bands that influenced me are just about everything that is going. I am, and Danse Society are, massive music fans. If you want to get into it in a deeper way there is sort of a bigger picture about who influences you because it’s got to be the 70s bands we all love: Alex Harvey, Hawkwind, Sabbath, Yes, Uriah Heep, Zep – the list is endless but they all built my love and appreciation of music. I used to live for music and sit in the dark spacing away to Pink Floyd’s Relics.
Then, and it’s a big ‘then’, guess who pops along – the fucking Sex Pistols and The Damned, The Stranglers: God Save The Queen, New Rose and No More Heroes. I mean I liked The Clash but they sounded a bit too shouty for me – ‘London Calling’ was ace though.
Punk rock allowed you to go from never thinking you could play to actually thinking ‘Fuck yeah, it’s an attitude – pick an instrument up, fucking learn it as you go, go out and play, be creative’. Fuck ‘em all, that’s what I did. I was in Barnsley’s first punk band. I used to carry my drums (I had this little kit) on two buses: Barnsley bus station on a Friday night to practice, fuck I was 16 – that toughened me up, nobody got my drums.
When I met my first band mates, they said ‘You want to be in our band? We heard you got a drum kit.’ I said ‘Yeah, but I can’t fucking play’. They said ‘Great, we can’t either, so let’s do it’. You know what? We did. I was a roadie for this rock band my mate was in playing Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy songs. The fucking kimono-wearing drummer hated me playing his drums. I got good real quick – there were some real muso snobs back then. I remember when I got my roto toms (drum nerds will know about these) – I’m carrying them through town and kimono boy with his girlfriend came up to me saying ‘What you doing with those? Oh look he’s thinking he’s fancy now, so I smashed them on his bird’s head and stabbed him…punks rule….take no shit. Here I go again, making things up to sound exciting –no, I’m being silly, I did not do that!
What I actually said was ‘You wait mate, we’re the future’…. and we were.
Influential bands for us in the post punk period have to include Joy Division and The Cure – it’s dark room listening. I’d also include Ultravox, XTC, PIL – you can go on forever. The thing about Danse Society’s early days, which you can hear if you listen closely, is that both Lyndon and I liked dance funk chic groove disco as well, which we incorporated into our style. As a drummer I was influenced mainly by The Banshees’ drummer, Kenny Morris. I learned to play listening to the Join Hands album, tapping a pillow – Juju has also got to be a great all-time dark album from The Banshees.
Another influential album is Sleep No More by The Comsat Angels, who I mentioned earlier. Nobody does despair as good as on the Sleep No More album. A special mention has to be made of Japan. They were real innovators. I had their first album so it was the use of synth again, but they achieved Roxy Music status for me with Quiet Life. I honestly could go on for ages about bands……”
“Louder Than War: Which bands have you supported and could you tell us about gigs you played live?”
“Paul Gilmartin: There was a Facebook thing where you had to name bands you have shared a stage with. I’m so lucky to have got a list that’s like somebody’s record collection. I have been privileged to have been allowed the opportunity to do all this.
It started well with The Ruts, The Adverts, Subway Sect, The Fall in my punk days. The next big band was The Tourists when I was with Y and then The Danse Society. It’s fair to say we did ‘em all: The Cure, The Stranglers, U2, The Banshees, Sex Gang Children, The Damned, Xmal Deutschland, The Church, Wasted Youth, UK Decay, The Fall, The Nephs, New Model Army, Killing Joke, Bauhaus, The Sisters of Mercy, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Death Cult, Chameleons, Theatre of Hate. Since we reformed we have done some great shows as well with the likes of Modern English, Sad Lovers & Giants, Skeletal Family, Balaam and the Angel, Spear of Destiny, Clan of Xymox, 1919, Chameleons Vox, Hawklords, Twisted Nerve, Expelaires (Hi Martin, Wolfie and Grape – big kiss to you if you’re reading this).
We like them all – we get on well as bands.”
“Louder Than War: What’s coming up next for The Danse Society?”
“Paul Gilmartin: Finish the album! It will be out next year with a tour, I hope. We want to get to Ireland as I’ve never been there with The Danse Society. In the short term we’ve got shows with Theatre of Hate and Balaam and the Angel again. We also want to start more new songs – I know we will – we can’t help that: As Billy Idol would say ‘It’s a nice day for another new album…..’”
“Louder Than War: Thank you.”
Photos by Raffaele Turci.
All words by Sophie Luchinsky. More writing by Sophie can be found at her Louder Than War author’s archive.