Andy Spearpoint was the lead vocalist of Manchester’s purveyors of alternate pop New Fast Automatic Daffodils (New Fads). Having had considerable success in the UK and USA between 1988-1995 with triumphant singles, albums and live gigs. Andy has rarely been heard of since the band split in 1995 but Matt Mead has managed to track down Andy this exclusive extensive interview Andy for Louder Than War.
LTW: Hi Andy, can you please let me know some memories of your upbringing?
Andy: I was lucky enough to grow up on a small, very green estate in Blackheath in Southeast London with loads of other kids my age. It was a great place to play so a lot of my early memories are of long days playing out and just inventing stuff to do. Loads of racing around on bikes, building dens, endless variations on kick the can, our own outdoor version of Escape from Colditz and mass crab apple fights. Later on as an adolescent it was a place where a whole gang of us could find space to hang out with the odd trip out for fags and cider or to mooch across the heath, through the park and down to the river at Greenwich.
What are you first musical memories?
My folks mostly listened to classical music with the odd bit of jazz. I used to catch Top of the Pops sometimes and mostly thought it was rubbish. Stuff that I remember making an impression included some of my dad’s early music and Joan Armatrading who my folks both liked and whose stuff from the late seventies I still think is brilliant. My mum bought a Bob Marley album, Kaya, which I thought was great and there were bits of James Taylor and Steeleye Span around too.
When did you first sing?
The Head at my primary school ran a great school choir that everyone was in for the last two years of school. It was his thing and we did all sorts of stuff. Bits of gospel, a couple of Beatles tunes, stuff from shows. We’d do the Christmas concerts at Goldsmith’s College in New Cross and we even got on Nationwide on the telly! I credit this with giving me a love of singing and making music with other people. It was in stark contrast to what I got at my secondary school. The music teacher couldn’t have done more to discourage teenage boys in the late seventies from wanting to do music if he’d tried. We started out learning the lives of the great composers and notation without an instrument to play it on. Anything non-classical was deemed ‘rubbish’. My friend Chris did his test answer on ‘lives of the great composers’ on Jonny Rotten. This was not well received. Music was for weird kids who wanted to be in a terrible school orchestra that bashed out clunky marches for school events. At some point it was decided to torture me by putting a violin in my hands. It wasn’t a success. I’d started playing classical guitar when I was ten. I had a good ear but couldn’t be bothered with learning notation properly and that went by the wayside after a couple of years.
When did you first start to get into music seriously?
I first started getting into my own music when I was about 15. My first gig was The Specials at Lewisham Odeon and it was ace. They made all of the Skinheads take off their Docs so that at the end of the night there was a massive pile of identical boots in the foyer and loads of pissed off Skinheads trying to work out which were theirs. This was fine by me as they were the sort of kids who beat me up at bus stops and whose big brothers gave out NF leaflets on Lewisham High Street on a Saturday. I was into all of the Two Tone stuff and went to loads of those gigs. The first album I bought with my own money was This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello and the first single was King/Food for Thought by UB40, when they were still good and before they could afford cocaine. The two are not unconnected.
Did you go to many gigs from an early age?
I went to loads of gigs with my mates Chris and Bernard. This meant ‘going up to town’ as South East London felt a lot more isolated then than it does now. Amongst others we saw Ian Dury, The Birthday Party, Bow Wow Wow, The Rezillos, Blurt (loads), Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Bo Diddley, BB King, Nine Below Zero, Pigbag. If you could get drunk and dance to it that was just the job. We’d go to Greenwich Theatre Bar on Sunday afternoons to dance on the carpet to Dudu Pukwana, a South African Jazz exile and his band. A fair bit of clubbing too to places like Sol Y Sombre and Heaven. The thing that strikes me about that list is how little black music is on it. I was really into reggae but I guess at the time it wasn’t mainstream enough to get into a lot of the venues in town though I remember seeing bands like Steel Pulse at festivals and the like. I wouldn’t have been clued up enough to go to the places in South London where that music would have been on.
When did you decide to start getting into bands as a musician?
I was music obsessed by the time I left home at 18 and headed up to Leeds to University. My first band was the mighty Dredd and the Badass Weeds. This was built around my mate Keith’s drum machine, the said Dredd, to whom the rest of us were slaves. We decided to do tunes in every genre based on one pre-set rhythm played at various speeds and mangled through fx pedals. We were monstrous. Band members went on to be in Utah Saints, The Snapdragons, Fads and Cassandra Complex. We all met up about ten years ago and still do the odd gig. We are still monstrous. We did a festival recently where we were by far the scariest thing on offer amidst a crowd of fay singer songwriters singing about how nice their girlfriend’s hair looked in the morning sun. We dress up and do songs about taxidermy, artificial insemination in pigs, insomnia and middle-aged rage. It does make us laugh.
How did New Fads form?
I met the New Fads through chance. Pez, Dolan and Justin had been making a racket in Pez’s flat in Hulme for a while and were after a singer. A mutual friend introduced us and we met at a party in Chorlton where I fell into a hedge. The thing that I liked was the spiky energy of the stuff, which made me twitch. I was also impressed with the fact that the tunes had a definite ending, generally about three minutes after the beginning. This was a welcome novelty after The Weeds with whom I once started a tune at a party, went off to go to a different party, then came back to the first party to find them still playing the same tune.
What happened from meeting the fellow members to actually forming the band and playing together?
The Fads got serious quite quickly. We were in the right place at the right time and we were good live from the outset so it wasn’t long before Playtime picked us up. We were serious about what we were doing but didn’t think too hard about any kind of career in it. It was all for the blast early on and getting an actual record out was great. Every new opportunity that came along was a good thing and we enjoyed ourselves. Song writing/arrangement was always by committee though I did all of the lyrics. This could be a good thing but could also be slow and frustrating, particularly in later days when agreement and inspiration became harder to find. When we finally packed in we had a raft of really strong material ready to go but a range of opinions on which the good tunes were. When the cooperative approach works then you can be greater than the sum of your parts but it can be a right head bang and some enlightened despotism wouldn’t have gone amiss at times. We knew nothing about song writing or music and I credit that with enabling us to create a strong and unique sound early on.
How did the band sign to Playime? How do you feel you early material fairs now listening back?
Listening back to our stuff, it tends to be the earlier stuff that still does it for me as it better captures the energy of the band. That was what we were about and I still think that we were one of the best live bands around at the time. That didn’t always translate well to record and the ethos of the band was not remotely songwriterly. We were never going to be doing anthemic pop with any conviction. We rehearsed next to Oasis for a while underneath The Boardwalk when they were getting going. We thought they were taking the piss and that they sounded like a pub rock Beatles. We were right of course but not as right as they were.
You then signed to Play It Again records and released a further single Fishes Eyes. Why the change of label?
Signing to Play it Again Sam was the next logical step. We had management by then. Oh my. We were very good at enjoying the ride but less good at steering the bus. We got to go to Belgium more. That was good. We’d recorded Pigeonhole by then and PIAS releasing it was a big step and they did well by it. I still really like a lot of Pigeonhole. We recorded it locally, our sound engineer Danny produced it and it didn’t cost a fortune to make. It was good, sold well, sounded like us and made money. You’d think that repeating the model for subsequent albums would make sense wouldn’t you? But no! We needed to ‘cross over’, we needed expensive producers, we needed shit videos that cost fifteen grand! I still get royalty statements from PIAS. The latest tells me that our tunes had been downloaded 12,500 times over a certain period, that we’d earned around a grand and that we and probably our children will all be dead before the money wasted on our behalf is ever recovered.
Did the band play live extensively at this point?
We played live loads. It was a blast. My fondest memories are of the foreign touring. Being abroad with your mates having fun and gigging is about as good as it gets. In particular our first European tour was a non-stop party. It was mostly small clubs and festivals run by people who were in it for the fun of it and everyone was super friendly and nice. We went in a knackered old Mercedes van with an excellent sunroof that you could stand up in. The windscreen wipers broke and we rigged up a solution using bungees and guitar leads that was operated by the person in the front passengers seat. We did a few gigs in the old East Germany just as the wall was coming down. It was fascinating and bizarre. The ludicrousness of the whole thing caught up with me one night in a venue in Meissen and I remember lying on the floor for several minutes absolutely helpless with laughter. I will never be happier.
Do you have any stand out memories of playing live?
Whipping a crowd up into a mass of bouncing dancers was what we did best and we gave a lot of people a good time, including ourselves. Stand out memories would be doing the big tent at Reading where everything broke and we went on late, full of nervous energy and absolutely ripped it up, and a small gig in Paris where we played as close to perfect as we ever got. The feeling of being in total control of something really powerful.
You went onto record a further album Body Exit Mind which featured single Stockholm that went onto the chart in USA. Was there a big following for New Fads in the states?
We toured in the US, once on a short solo tour and then on a big tour supporting Consolidated along with a Hip Hop band from Philadelphia called The Goats. That was a pretty intense month as I got ill early on and we did twenty eight gigs in thirty days and 10,500 miles of driving. All a bit hallucinatory. We never had a big following in the US, in spite of a one-legged US record company exec. telling us that we made ‘Great fuck music’. He’d taken us out for a swanky meal. That happened quite a lot and stood in contrast to the fact that Dolan’s shoes at the time were held together with gaffer tape. We did win gig of the year for the Whiskey A Go-Go in LA’s indie night. That wasn’t much fun as a gig. The stage was acoustically dead in order to allow poodle-permed widdly-widdly rock bands to hear every single note of their pointless guitar solos. It didn’t matter how loud we turned the amps up, it was impossible to get the space throbbing.
New Fads played a number of sessions for the legend that is John Peel. Were the band big fans of Johns?
We were all John Peel listeners and when we started out the most ambitious thing that we could think of was to get a Peel Session. To have done three would have been beyond our wildest dreams. I only had one opportunity to meet him but unfortunately was too stoned to have made any sense and so thought better of it. Hey ho.
The last we heard of the band was the album Love Is All in 1995. How were relationships within the band at this time?
By the time of Love IS All the writing was probably on the wall. Even more money was spent on a producer who smoothed the sound out to an extent that it was barely recognizable. We were starting to find consensus difficult and so it just happened without the necessary resistance from the band. We soldiered on but there comes a point where you feel that you’re getting nowhere. It’s a very intense relationship with band members and we spent more time with each other than with our partners over a good few years. Resentments and impasses develop. Success would probably have eased that but it wasn’t really happening. I can’t really remember how it came to an end and the last gig we did at The Hacienda was actually really good and with a bunch of strong, new songs. We recorded them live and went back to work on them a few years later. It was sounding really good and then the studio got robbed along with all of the hard drives so that was the end of that.
What have you done since the band split?
Since the band split I have ended up working in community music and music education. For my sins I trained as a primary school teacher soon after the band split. That didn’t last long but I started taking a bunch of drums in and working with some naughty boys who suddenly weren’t naughty anymore but inspirational instead so that seemed the way to go. I love my work and have worked with thousands of kids over the years. I’m particularly interested in creative and devised work and often work with large groups doing percussion based stuff. I’ve just built a twenty player DIY Gamelan Orchestra that incorporates bits of electronics and have been working with some quite elderly adult mental health groups using that, which has been fascinating. Myself and my other half moved to a small cottage in a field in Tipperary in Ireland a couple of years back and I’m just getting my music work established here. It’s a bit different to Manchester! It’s culturally conservative and I’m struggling to find people on the same wavelength to make music with. It’s all Irish Trad, which isn’t really my bag. It really does all sound the same… I played in an eight piece acoustic band for a good few years in Huddersfield. We were called String Fellows, horribly enough, but made a good racket. These days I’m mostly playing Sax as I decided that it was really about time that I got properly good at playing something. On Tuesday nights I drive into Limerick and go and do Jazz improv. with a bunch of folks. I have a five year plan and aim to be a half decent player by the end of it. Hopefully I’ll find someone at some point who wants to make a weird noise with me but for now I have to make my own. I’m working on some ways of doing that.
Do you have any musical projects at the moment? Will we ever see New Fads reform?
The saxophone may end up being a substitute voice, my real one having failed on me while singing with a bunch of folk in November 2017. I’m recovering from radiotherapy for what turned out to be a cancer on my vocal cords and the jury is still out as to whether or not I’ll get a singing voice back. I’ve seen a fair bit of my fellow Fads and crew recently who have all been thoroughly lovely and supportive through what has been a tricky year. We were made a decent offer a couple of years back to do some gigs and met up to discuss it. The others still have some quite small children and some quite grown up commitments unfortunately so it never happened and we all just got massively pissed instead. Nothing changes.
Lastly, what’s on your turntable at present?
Hot tunes du jour? Well my tastes are ever expanding. As far as rock and roll goes Idles put a smile on my face and Sleaford Mods are on in Limerick in a few weeks which I reckon I’ll get along to. There’s a fair bit of jazz new and old going on. I recently discovered Archie Shep , Roller Trio and Get The Blessing. Having been rude about Irish Trad, Lankum are worth a look at and there’s a few trying to do something interesting with it. Szun Waves and Colin Stetson are nice if you’ve got the lurgy, which I have. Blurt are still my favourite band that a lot of people never heard of. They packed it in fairly recently but Ted Milton is an inspiration on the howling sax front. Check out Some Come , Bright Red White and Blue, Sharks of Paradise and Alouette. I saw them in Mancs in around 2002 having not seen them for twenty years and they made a whole lot of sense. If you want something motivational, search for Summer in the Parks by East Coast Connection. NYE party tune winner!
All words by Matt Mead. Further articles by Matt can be found via the Louder Than War author archive pages.