LTW: I’m sat here with Duglas T. Stewart, the frontman from the BMX Bandits, the Wizard of Whimsy, and one of Scotland’s National Treasures.
So good afternoon Duglas. How’s your lockdown going?
DTS: I think compared to a lot of people’s experience, not too bad. I am in a fortunate position where I’ve not been feeling too much anxiety. I’m not blasé about the whole situation. I don’t feel anxious in a kind of debilitating way, which a lot of people are going through. Also, I am managing to just survive financially, day today, and so far, I’ve not been feeling physically ill…
LTW: Brilliant! So, is there anything that you’ve been doing that’s helped to keep you buoyant and happy?
DTS: I think –I’ve been turning to a lot of music. I mean, I always do that anyway. More so maybe. Just seeking out music. Also, I’m a big fan of a lot of movies and I’ve probably been veering myself towards films, sort of, not that I sit and watch really miserable films all day. Though I’ve probably been avoiding ones that are a bit grim. I think we all need to lift our spirits a bit. I mean sometimes, it’s strange, sometimes when we are going through difficult times we can listen to songs that are quite sad, and moving, and they make us feel less lonely or something because we are going through difficult things. I try to stay away from angry stuff that is without hope. I think It’s always good to share a message, that things may be rough, but there’s still hope. There are good people out there as well as all the bad people, who get most of the Press.
LTW: Absolutely! I know the kind of melancholy stuff that cheers me up, sort of Patsy Cline, and George Jones. Can you give our readers an example of what melancholy stuff cheers you up?
DTS: Well recently I have been listening to quite a bit of Nina Simone. I’ve been listening to Nina Simone because in her music she deals with some real universal stuff and she also crystalizes being a black artist, a black woman in America at a certain time. Although the music feels very timely, in a way, today, with Black Lives Matter. I listen to a song like, her performing: Young, Gifted and Black, and it’s so uplifting and full of hope. It’s all about celebrating the potential, for people claiming the rightful place for their talents. There is melancholy attached to it because I think a few years ago, the world was sort of patting itself on the back … thinking; ‘Yeah we’re really quite Right On now!’, and of course things were just getting better at hiding it in mainstream society and media, I guess. This stuff is still there.
LTW: I’m aware sometimes that you get onstage with Johnny 7?
DTS: Yeah, I’ve done that… that’s been pleasure….!
LTW: With Jim Brady of Rezillos fame, and more recently with Goodbye Mr Mckenzie. What is your favourite song that you have done, or would like to do with the Johnny 7?
DTS: I think my favourite that I have performed with them, was Call Me, a song by Tony Hatch. My favourite version of it is by Chris Montez. I also know that another favourite of Jim’s is another Chris Montez one: The More I See You, The More I Want You. It is completely sublime. There is a term called, Easy Listening, that is a bit condescending. You just feel de-stressed when you listen to this music. Something about the rhythm, his beautiful voice, the melodies. So yeah, I’d love to sing that with The Johnny 7 one day. The other thing is that I would recommend people to do, is listen to Chris Montez’s records and it will just lighten your day….
LTW: When the BMX Bandits toured with OASIS, which brother did you VIBE with, Liam or Noel?
DTS: PAH ha ha…. I wonder if this is from Alan (Mcgee)? I guess the one I felt most connected with was, definitely, Liam. I’ve seen Liam since then. I’ve seen both of them since then. I felt Liam was very much the warmer brother. He reminded me of certain guys who were in my class at school. I went to a kind of average, regular Primary school in Bellshill, an industrial town in the west of Scotland. There would be a guy in your class who would be funny. He’d say something cheeky, and he’d get sent down the front of the class, where he’d say something funny, and then he’d get sent down to the Head Masters. When he’d get down there, he’d say something even more outrageous. Next thing, he’d be walking through the playground swinging his arms in the air, and you’d sort of be laughing…. He sort of reminded me of those characters. When I saw him, something like ten or so years after we toured together, he was just as warm, he was asking after everybody’s kids. He was saying: ‘Oh, me and the Big Man, we toured back in the day!’
Then, when I met Noel, he couldn’t have been more different! he was so cold, and so dismissive. So yes, I guess sometimes first impressions can be right. I don’t want anything bad to come to Noel or either one of them. I certainly, as I know many others have, who have met them, warmed to Liam. A lot more than to his big brother Noel.
LTW: Okay, thanks for that, that’s insightful!
We all know Kurt Cobain loved the BMX Bandits, and Alan (Mcgee/Creation Records Co-Founder) tells me that when Paul Weller was visiting the Creation Warehouse in the ’90s, the only CD that he left with was The BMX Bandits; Serious Drugs.
LTW: If you could sing with any band, past or present, who would it be?
DTS: I thought we were going in another direction, there. If I could sing with any band, past or present, who would it be hmm? Well, I don’t know if I have the vocal ability to do it and it would be at a certain time, a certain era, so it would not be this band now. It would be the Beach Boys. That’s not just because people think they they are my favourite band. They’re one of a handful of my favourite bands. There’s something about singing parts with a whole bunch of other people, who are really talented singers. My vocal ability. as a technical singer, is weaker than most people who’ve played and sung with them. Yeah, I’d love to have been assigned parts, probably some kind of bass parts, doo doo doo….and would have loved to have sung with them from any time in the mid-sixties till about nine-teen seventy-seven.
I actually got to sing with Brian Wilson’s backing band. It was an After Show party and I got to sing on The Little Girl I Once Knew with the people who did all the harmonies and backing with Brian when he was touring. It felt like I was part of the Beach Boys for a little bit of time…
LTW: Can you tell me about the Kim Fowley Story?
DTS: There are many Kim Fowley stories. We should start with Jason McPhail…
LTW: Oh I know Jason…
DTS: Jason started bringing some people over to Glasgow to play in the 1990s. He wasn’t a professional promoter. He brought over Dan Penn, the legendary Soul producer, writer and singer. Dan had worked with people like Aretha Franklin, the Box Tops and Otis Redding. He brought Kim Fowley over and the BMX Bandits got to be his backing band. He brought Alex Chilton over. Teenage Fanclub played as his backing band. While Kim Fowley was here there was an opportunity to get Kim to produce some BMX Bandits stuff. Kim worked with so many people; like KISS, not that I’m any fan of KISS, but he worked with them. Slade, Soft Machine, The Runaways, John Lennon, lots and lots of them. We went into the studio, and it was an adventure.
Kim was a real extreme character. There is a movie called The Runaways, in which Michael Shannon portrays Kim in it. It’s a great performance. I really recommend it. I think it’s one of the really good Rock bio-pics, and I think it’s uncanny at capturing his slightly dangerous personality. We had a really good experience with him. He was very wild but very fun. He would call you by what you would do in the band. Like a Rank in the Army. You’d not be Duglas or Francis, he’d say: BASS PLAYER, DRUMMER, SINGER. We wrote recorded and mixed five tracks in twenty-four hours with no sleep. We had maybe two half-hour breaks. For us, when the session was over, he kind of turned into a real pussy cat. It was like a kind of mindset to get a certain result. It was coming out of this slightly antagonistic atmosphere, and he would lie on the couch and bark out orders to people. And we were like: ‘Let’s have fun with this. Let’s not get offended.’ I mean he had worked with Phil Spector, Phil Spector had produced him. He was a guy from old LA, old Hollywood. We got a pathway into the past through him. He was an extraordinary, six foot six tall guy, who looked like a cross between Klaus Kinski and Boris Karloff. He would say things like: ‘If anyone gives me any shit, I can kill them with a drumstick. I’ve been trained to do that. Or, you’d be driving down the road with him and you’d stop at the lights. He’d roll down the window and he’d signal to the person in the next car. He’d just roll down the window and go: ‘Do you know who I’ve got in this car?’ gesticulating to me sitting next to him, and he’d go: ‘The BMX Bandits! Can you believe that?’ and you could tell they’d be thinking: ‘Who?’ haha.
LTW: Pre-Production Boot Camp?
DTS: Yes. First thing when he hired us as his backing band, he lined us up against the wall. We were like: ‘If we go for this, we’ll have fun, because we were sort of choosing to participate. If we take offence, like: “How dare you talk to us like that?” It would just become a bad experience for everybody. He lined us up against the wall and tested us out. He’d have all the instruments there and say something like: ‘Okay, I want you to play The Who’s ‘My Generation’. Francis, who was in the band at the time, would step up, as he was really good at figuring chords in an instant, or guessing what the chords were. So Francis is barking out the chords. Then Kim would go: ‘Now, backwards?’ and we’d start doing it backwards. So he was doing all this thing so he could test if we could do it, if we were good enough. And we actually had the chops where we actually could do that stuff. We met with his approval…
LTW: What BMX Bandits material was he engaged with, for the record?
DTS: He co-wrote and co-produced half of the material that’s on an album called Theme Park. That was the third album we made for CREATION. There was also a single, which wasn’t on the album, called Help Me Somebody and Golden Teardrops. That was the two things he was involved in.
LTW: During Covid 19, different artists have employed different means to stay connected with their fanbase. What have the BMX Bandits done, and do you think that will continue after Lockdown?
DTS: Funnily enough, we’ve not actually done that much, like performing online. I do a weekly quiz. There’s some music in it, music from me being a fan. A lot of people have said to me that the quiz is a really fun distraction for them. I think hardcore quizzers would enjoy it as well. It’s meant to be a fun distraction. I try to present it in a fun way. So people go away going: ‘I only got fifteen points out of forty, but I had fun.’ Or hopefully, people might think stuff like: ‘Oh that was quite interesting that Angela Landsbury was the cousin of the guy who gave us The Clangers and Bagpuss.’ There is curious facts and trivia that you can go away with after you watch the quiz. I do that every week.
Ever since I can remember, I made quizzes for my family. I would drive my family crazy with quizzes about Columbo and records that I had. I’ve always loved quizzes and puzzles. A new one goes up online every Tuesday and all the previous ones are still there.
LTW Is there anything I’ve left out, that needs to be mentioned?
DTS: Oh, absolutely, we are reissuing some stuff on vinyl, including my favourite BMX Bandits album My Chain. You can order it right here:
Lastly, BMX Bandits are releasing a collaborative work with Anton Newcombe, my friend from The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and HiFi Sean (Dickson), on July 3rd, on Bandcamp. Watch out for this. It’s a song Anton and I wrote in 2016 in Berlin, which Sean has reworked in such a brilliant way. It is very special for me, as I started BMX Bandits with Sean in Bellshill in 1985 and now we have this new track together. The song is called Razorblades & Honey.
LTW: Duglas, thanks so much for taking the time to share what you’re up to with me today.
DTS: You’re very welcome Harry