Manchester, UK indie rock and pop group Asia Fields who incorporate elements of funk and dance with layered percussion have just released ‘Goodbye Frank’ featuring much loved tunes such as Dazed, Save Me, Ain’t That Just What Love Is, Friction, and many more unheard demos from ’88 onwards available on vinyl and CD. I interview lead singer Graham Maley about his days in the band and what he’s up to now!
Louder Than War: Can you give us a bit of background of your upbringing?
I was born and grew up in Harpurhey Manchester 9 in the 1960’s. I attended St Thomas’s county primary in Crumpsall and then the, ‘famous for all the wrong reasons’ Plant Hill high school in Blackley in the mid 1970’s. A more Northern, working class background would have been hard to find. Both schools developed and finely tuned my survival instincts; academia would have been a bonus if at all possible. Having said that sport was high on the agenda and I spent most of my youth playing football and listening to music. I left school and took an apprenticeship in engineering, lasting 5 years. I left around the time of my 21st birthday, bought a Ford Transit van and set off for Europe with an acoustic guitar and 2 passengers, one of which was Tony Welsh. (relevant for later).
What was the first music you remember listening to?
The music I remember as a very young child, obviously played by my parents consisted of a lot of Jazz, some good old crooners, and the two stand out albums I always remember were ‘Sergio Mendiz and Brazil 66’ and the theme music from the musical ‘Hair.’ I also remember certain songs from the radio impacting me massively, none greater than hearing David Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’ for the first time in the summer of 1973. Of course The Beatles, The Kinks, The Stones, were a constant backdrop for me before I had reached the age of 10. My Aunty was married to the original drummer of the Hollies and they were both big into the music scene so I heard a lot of the above bands, especially The Beatles round at their house.
What was the first serious music you got into?
I remember a lot of music coming in at once. My sister was 3 years older and into old school Reggae and American funk and I remember really liking this stuff. I would have been around the age of 13. I was particularly struck with the sound of funk guitar and Bass. I loved Funkadelic and Parliment but was also listening to Bowie and Lou reed. And then Punk came crashing in which only mildly caught my attention, but what followed influenced me massively. Most of my school mates were into heavy rock and metal but I remember a couple of us discovering bands like X.T.C, Joy Division, The Jam, The Buzzcocks, Talking Heads, Magazine etc. These were such great discoveries at the time and we felt like we had discovered something sacred.
What was your musical background before Asia Fields?
I began writing songs in my mid teens, nothing of any quality and definitely lots of cringe worthy stuff, but I was interested in the idea of telling a story through the medium of music. Around the age of 17 I met Tony Welsh at Oldham College. We had similar diverse tastes in music and became great mates. It wasn’t long before we put a band together called Jazmedia with Tony on guitar and me on vocals, Karl Drinkwater on saxophone and I think Mark Hughes on bass, later to be replaced by Mark Hindley. We acquired Dunc the drummer later and Gillian Wright on trumpet. We were quite experimental, maybe in the way of Biting Tongues, Rip, Rig and Panic, Laughing Clowns even. We gigged locally but split up after around two years. Tony and myself carried on writing and formed a little unit called ‘Aldo in Arcadia.’ I can’t remember how but we met Clint Boon soon after and he heard us rehearsing at Unit 8 in Oldham. He returned with his four track recorder and we made a demo which is still around somewhere. I think this was 1983/1984. We played a gig at the Castle, the former Grey Horse in Oldham which ended up in a drunken brawl and me and Tony being banned from there. One week later we were travelling around Europe busking for food.
Who did you meet from Asia Fields first?
Tony and myself went our different ways in Europe. We lived in Italy for a while before he headed off to Germany and myself hitched hiked to Greece and the Islands. We had no contact during that time but when I eventually returned to England I telephoned him only to find out he had arrived home on the same day. We met up and carried on writing once more. We started rehearsing at The Mill and Chris Goodwin heard us and offered his services on drums. We re established our connection with Clint. The Inspiral Carpets were formed by this time but had a different line up and I don’t think Clint had joined at that point. We acquired the Bean brothers on congas, bongos and percussion. We needed a bass player and Chris brought his mate David (Taff) Jones along who had just bought an acoustic guitar but couldn’t play bass. Chris said he was a good lad though and that he looked the part. We took him at his word and we began rehearsing with Taff learning at a great speed. We had a couple of female backing vocalists too and very early on Clint was again recording our demos. I loved Chris’s style of drumming and he really enhanced my love of rhythmic, funky guitar. We were both quite into A Certain Ratio among others and we were enjoying the direction we were heading. I remember buying a Wah pedal in 1985 and that made things more dancier. I think me and Chris gelled well musically and with the addition of Latin and Cuban trained percussionists we were leaning towards a dance sound but still holding down an indie feel. We also recruited a saxophonist later on which gave a slightly different feel to the band. Some time after this we lost Tony Welsh which left me as the main songwriter.
How were rehearsals?
Rehearsals became a way of life. Two or three times a week we were at it, which led us into venturing out to do gigs. Firstly in Oldham and then on into Manchester. We kept this line up for around three years. We were very disciplined with rehearsals, very rarely missing one and I always remember them to be productive. We weren’t really a band that argued a lot and fall outs were none existent. We did a few demos with Clint Boon and a couple with other people. This line up lasted until 1988. The new line up saw the introduction of Eamonn Sheehy on drums, Mark Finch on guitar, and Paul (hewie) Hewitt on bongos.
Who came up with the songs?
I was writing the songs for the band, mostly on acoustic guitar and then taking them into rehearsal where they would be adjusted and arranged a little depending on what sort of feel we got to them and where the dynamics and emphasis would be.
Were they band efforts?
We did used to Jam stuff but not really for long. We always has a framework or structure to the songs I brought in and then we may go over sections of the song to establish a feel. There are examples though of where a song was jammed into existence as in the deleted single ‘Friction.’ Sometimes songs came out massively different from how I wrote or perceived them. I remember periods though where we moving in different musical directions and it was almost impossible to bring a new song in because of pull in opposite directions.
Who were your musical influences around this time?
I think my musical influences came from a few places. I was a big Postcard records fan and found Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Josef K delightful. A few mainstay bands were always there though, such as Talking Heads, Pale Fountains and Shack, Love, A.C.R. I was a big Smiths and James fan but they never influenced me as a songwriter. That was the same for many other bands I was into earlier on such as The Bunnymen, Wah Heat, Teardrop Explodes, Psychedelic Furs, Fire Engines and many more. Some bands inspire you to be in a band but don’t influence the way you write. And others do both.
Did you have any plans to get signed by a major and go places? Or was it a joy ride kinda thing for you all?
We always had our vision romantically tied in the Indie way. We were climbing the ladder in a gig sense, packing out Manchester and then London venues and others in between. We were preparing the release of our debut E.P. ‘Burst’ we had recorded with Graham Massey engineering on our own ‘Frank records’ label, yet managing to pull crowds of over 500 people before we had the record out. We refused all interviews with magazines and Music papers not wanting to be tied up with the Madchester movement. We had a building in Oldham where we were rehearsing, and the record company was on the second floor. Our manager lived on the top floor and we built a wine bar (Jacksons Pit) in the cellar, which still functions today as a cool venue for bands. So we had all we needed to remain totally independent and were living in a lovely bubble of self sufficiency. We had offers from many labels during 1989/1990 including three major labels but we stayed firm with our intentions and refused all advances. The single was released and sold over 5000 copies. We then recorded the follow up single ‘Friction’ which we recorded with Chris Nagle. This eventually got deleted and the roller coaster had begun.
There’s quite an upbeat Brazilian feel some of the tracks. Was this an influence on your playing?
There was a period where we using our influences quite prominently. David the conga player was really into Latin/Brazilian/Cuban stuff. Also Mark Finch was developing his style under the West African influence. We were all into Talking Heads also and I think you can hear this influence. We always tried to keep some Indie reference to it all but we drifted for certain.
Where did you play gigs at this time?
We were signed to ‘Blast Hard’ agency and we embarked upon a couple of national tours, so lots of University gigs and a focused effort in London. We travelled quite a lot in this period and received very welcoming reviews from the music papers etc which led us into eventually compromising our stubbornness and doing a full page spread for N.M.E.
Did you support any bands of interest?
We supported The Inspiral Carpets a good few times. The first one being November 1989 at the International. Everything seemed perfect for our performance there and it certainly served as a springboard for us. It is still one our most talked about gigs. We also supported The Charlatans, The Levellers and Shack, which was wonderful for me personally being a big Shack fan.
Any interesting stories of life on the road?
One springs to mind. We had played Alexandra Palace in London and we had no-where to go so we thought it would be a good idea to drive all the way to Ridge Farm recording studios where The Inspirals were recording an album. We bought masks and found the studio eventually then broke in as the Inspirals slept. It was probably about 4am and the chaos that ensued was a delight to witness. We drank beer and played pool until the morning came and then set off back for Manchester. I drove the whole way and then got out in Failsworth where David Keane (Beanie) took the wheel for the remaining two miles. He did a dodgy right turn and ploughed into a van at the Roxy cinema, tipping the hired mini bus over and causing more entertainment for the people queuing to watch the film than I imagine the film itself. Beanie wasn’t insured to drive so he was trying to put his bobby hat on the head of our manager who was insured to drive before crawling out of the mini bus. We could cram some crazy times into a 24 hour period. I am remembering more as I think but maybe some should stay as memories only!
How long were Asia Fields together?
We formed in 1984 and disbanded in 1999
When did Asia Fields come to an end?
We were asked to make an album which would be released and I have no memory of who by. We chose to record with the lovely and sadly departed Steve Lloyd at the Noisebox in Prestwich. I think we spent around a week recording mostly new stuff. We had a different line up at this point with Dave Wells replacing Eamonn Sheehy on drums, Andrew Preston joining us on keyboards and Christian Butterworth had replaced David Keane on bongos and percussion. We did however ask David back to come and record on the album which he did. This was 1999 and our direction in music had changed. I thought it was some of the best stuff we had written. We stayed in the studio for around a week and recorded nine songs. We said our goodbyes and planned to ring each other the next week for rehearsal as usual and to continue with the details of the album. It just never happened though. Nobody rang. I think with all we had been through it was too much effort to carry on. Too many years and too much ill fate. As though we had died years ago but no-one could face the funeral so we kept on going. The irony of it was the album was already called ‘The Good Goodbye.’ And the album remained unheard for eighteen years until Cherry Red got in touch with us to ask we would include the single ‘Dazed’ on the up coming compilation album ‘Manchester North Of England.’ I got talking with John Reed from the label and we discussed the album amongst other things. He asked if we were interested to release it with them, which we obviously were. So after years in the dark we have two albums released and a track on a compilation album.
What did you do after Asia Fields?
Briefly put a band together with Tony Welsh once more, under the name Go Cosmic. I think we had some strong songs and had potential but the dynamics of the band didn’t work so it was a short lived affair. Then I began playing with James Loughlin from the 99s. We formed a little project called The Homelys. We kept it very garage like, recording most things actually in my garage. It expanded eventually and became a full band. We have a few recordings on you tube and The Homelys facebook page.
Do you still play now?
I moved to a small village in southern Spain almost three years ago. I have managed to put a band together here with a bit of an international feel. We have the luxury of being able to record in the Bass player’s house so we are managing to document the creativity. It has a different feel to the music than anything I’ve done before, which I like as it stretches me as a song writer. And in this tiny Spanish village I stumbled upon the bass player who is also from Manchester, and has a very similar musical upbringing. We are about to become more active in a gig sense and hopefully release some material under the name ‘Aluna Pop Ups’
What are you up to these days?
Still as interested in music as ever. Had a bit of a lifestyle change obviously with moving out to Spain. Enjoying learning the language and embracing a new culture. There are less than ten English people in the whole village so I have avoided the expat culture and thrown myself in the deep end, which has brought its challenges, but has stopped me from becoming sterile and safe. I have written a couple of books under the pseudonym Grov Moluvsky and am currently embarking upon a third. I still return to Manchester a few times a year, it is a magnet for sure and if the sun shone a bit more there i’m certain I would be back in Manchester 9 with those wonderful scallywag mates of mine!
Interview by Matt Mead. More writing by Matt can be found at his Louder Than War author archive.