Fast Cars: Once Again … I’m Lost For Words
Vinyl | DL | Streaming
Manchester’s Fast Cars have just released Once Again… I’m Lost For Words via Detour Records. Recordings that had been ‘lost’ for 40 years!
Five of the tracks on this release were recorded at the Phonogram Studios, London during September 1980 as an audition piece for Polydor. Completing the set is a blistering live version of The Kids Just Wanna Dance recorded in Japan in 2008.
The story of Fast Cars is an interesting one, it’s actually deserving of it’s own film. Partly right place but wrong time, partly good things come to those who wait. Named after the Buzzcocks song, Fast Cars are Manchester’s version of Sixto Rodriguez as featured in the documentary Searching For Sugar Man, but in reverse. Years after splitting up, the Swinton foursome found that they were ‘big in Japan’ and their aforementioned 1979 debut, of which only 1000 were initially pressed was changing hands for serious money; the group hailed as “The Kings of Powerpop” and “The Best British Powerpop Band” in Japan.
Formed in early 1978 by brothers Stuart and Steven Murray (bass and vocals respectively) after recruiting Haydn Jones (lead guitar) and Tony Dyson (drums) via auditions held at TJ Davidsons Rehearsal Rooms. Fast Cars spent 7 months with a Saturday night residency at The Butchers Arms, Pendlebury, as well as gigs at legendary Manchester venues such as The Oaks, Pips, Rafters and The Russell Club. Jones left to be replaced by Craig Hilton in September 1978.
On 21st October the group lost their residency and were banned from the pub as “someone danced just a little too much”… an event which was then immortalised on the first single. After spending most of 1979 gigging, The Kids Just Wanna Dance was released on the independent label Streets Ahead Records based in Altrincham.
It was well received and over the years has been included on a number of compilations, including the seminal Greater Manchester Punk 1977- 81, Manchester, North Of England and most recently Gary Crowley’s Punk and New Wave. They reached a wider audience in 2013 when a version was included on the album Lost at Seventeen by Emily’s Army (now SWMRS). The track/band introduced them to Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, whose son, Joey drums in the group.
Following its release, Fast Cars played throughout England and built up a solid reputation. Fast Cars supported a number of renowned acts of the time, including Joy Division, Ed Banger, Buzzcocks, XTC, The Rezillos, The Chords, The Freshies and many more. 3 weeks after supporting The Jam at Manchester Apollo in November 1980, the band split. Fast forward 21 years… after finding out about their fame in the Far East, Fast Cars were playing two dates at Tokyo’s prestigious Studio Jam Club!
Of the tracks Once Again … I’m Lost For Words, versions of Marching As To War and the cover of This Old Heart of Mine were released on their 2001 ‘debut’ album on Coming … Ready Or Not. Tracks I Go Where You Go; Sophisticated Lady and Way Of The World hold their own against releases of that era, all be it in demo form. You can hear the New Wave influences of Buzzcocks, XTC and The Undertones throughout.
Now if you’re like me, and have read up to now, I’m sure you will have a few more questions, so I sat down with bassist Stuart for a chat about the bands career.
LTW: Stuart, I’ve so many questions but we’ll start with this release. Lost for 40 years? Who found it? Where was it?
I have kept a list of all our key dates for the Fast Cars website but didn’t have one for our time in the studio in 1980 so I messaged Dennis Munday who arranged the session to see if he could find out. He did more than that, he told us it was in archive vaults in London! I passed this info onto Dizzy Holmes owner of Detour Records who managed to obtain them. Dizzy specialises in releasing music from bands that didn’t quite make it so I thought he would have the skills to get it and he did!
LTW: How did it feel hearing tracks like Sophisticated Lady which you had no memory of writing or recording?
Very unusual, we had re-recorded some of the songs in 2001 as we could still remember them (although they are not quite the same) as we had played occasionally throughout the ’90s and they were in the set but Sophisticated Lady was not remembered by any of us including our Steve who wrote it. We think it must have been his latest song at the time and we got the basics down, maybe to finish another time but that never happened as we didn’t get the deal we were looking for. It was not even mixed but James Perrett has done the most with what was there.
LTW: I do think the tracks stand up against what was being released at the time. Were the bands you were supporting an influence?
The Jam were an influence at this time but our influences were still The Beatles, The Who, Bowie, more pop-based but we wanted to add power to them get our own sound. We didn’t see ourselves as a Punk band, our attitude was “here’s our music like it or not, we don’t want to be labelled.” We were 18 to 20-year-olds and thought we knew best in hindsight perhaps we should have taken a different route?!
LTW: The Isley Brother’s This Ole Heart Of Mine had been a hit in 1975 for Rod Stewart so I wouldn’t have thought was very punk/New Wave. Is there a story behind the cover?
Again other New Wave/mod bands had covered some Motown/Sixties songs so we thought we would have a go, the Rod Stewart version still fresh in our minds. We did something similar in 2004 after we had reformed with My First, My Last, My Everything by Barry White thinking that needed speeding up too!! Both songs have been popular in our live set and I have a good version of This old Heart live in Japan and the crowd sing along with us. I’m hoping one day we can release the full “Live in Japan” show on record.
LTW: What kind of music were you playing in the pre-Fast Car’s bands Piledriver and Heartbraker?
We were doing very similar to other young bands at the time learning how to play. Our set was Chuck Berry, Rolling Stones, The Who, covers eg: Jumping Jack Flash, Substitute, Johnny Be Good, up-tempo rock and roll type songs. The only difference in the 2 bands were Nick Bold (who went on to form Virginia Wolf) was the Guitarist in Piledriver and Craig Hilton was the Guitarist in Heartbreaker. Our gigs were mainly Pubs, School/Youth Club discos, wherever we could get on!!
LTW: Your brother Steve was briefly in The Sirens with Marc Riley prior to him joining The Fall. Do you know how that came about? Swinton and Wythenshawe are hardly neighbouring towns.
After Heartbreaker split, Steve had got into Punk and was going down to The Oaks to watch bands and wanted to get into that scene. He saw an ad in A1 Music in Manchester (in those days everyone hung around there on a Saturday) for a singer so he went for an audition. It turned out to be Marc Riley, Craig Scanlon and Steve Hanley (all later members of The Fall). They rehearsed in Tony Davidson’s place in Manchester. That was our introduction to the TJM Rehearsal Rooms. I went to watch rehearsals and said to Steve we could form a better band than them and could join in on the “New Wave!”
Steve did one live gig with them at Pips and then decided we should form a band ourselves. We held auditions at TJM after putting an ad in the Manchester Evening News but we were not happy with those who came along. We decided to ask the former members of Heartbreaker if they would join us, Craig was in another band and wasn’t interested; Tony Dyson wanted to play drums again so he joined us, but was never into the music we were playing. We were told the best guitarist in Swinton was Haydn Jones so we tracked him down and persuaded him to play.
LTW: You seem to have been on the cusp of ‘making it’ throughout 1979 and 1980 after the release of the single, coverage in the Music Press, Local TV, a number of support slots and the demo sessions for Polydor. Was calling it a day a gradual decision or snap decision?
It was a gradual decision, we were going to release a second single on Streets Ahead but they had ceased trading (but a white label test press was made) then Polydor decided against signing us and then our drummer decided he no longer wanted to be in the band. We had no gigs booked for 1981 so after our last gig of 1980 at the Portland Bars Manchester, (where Craig had his guitar stolen) we called it a day. We’d had 3 drummers in 3 years and didn’t want to go through auditioning again the music scene was changing, and we were just fed up. Steve and Craig were now 20 and me 22 so we were getting too old for it all!!
LTW: What did you do between 1981 and 2000?
I got married in 1982 (divorced in 1990) so for those years I never touched a bass, the first thing I did around 1990 was join a band that had the 2 guitarists from The Two Tone Pinks in and we did the Pub circuit for a few years. Tony and Craig both played in different bands on the cabaret circuit but Steve carried on in bands namely, The Thorns of Affliction, Design 9, and Made in Hong Kong. All those bands have released recorded material, Design 9 got lots of airplay on Piccadilly Radio but once again never got the deal they were looking for.
LTW: When and how did you become aware of the fam and reputation in Japan?
During 1999 I was on a Management course and some of the work entailed researching on the internet. One day in the library whilst bored I typed in “The kids just wanna dance” expecting no results, to my amazement it came back with 11 results. One was of an album released in Germany in 1994 entitled Back to Front #4 which contained the track. Intrigued I contacted them and was told it was popular in Japan and there was also a bootleg copy of it released out there.
In early 2001 I mentioned this to a colleague at work and he suggested I make a website and see what happens. I did just that and within weeks I had a message from Detour Records asking about how many demos we had and would put out an album if we had enough (hence re-recording songs we could remember to get the deal!!) Then we had a request from 1977 Records in Tokyo asking if we wanted to play in Japan. Of course we did.
As I said before we had played a few gigs throughout the ’90s so we were still in touch (Me, Steve, Craig and Tony) and decided to give it a go. We went into Ionian Studios in Bolton and put down as many old songs as we could remember and when listening back we sounded no different to our 1970s selves. We sent them to Detour and got the deal we had wanted so much back in the day. It was suggested we couldn’t pull it off but we did and never told anyone which were 1970’s recordings and which was 2001!!
LTW: Would the Fast Cars have had a new lease of life without that?
I doubt it, we might have done the occasional gig to friends but nothing more than that.
LTW: After Coming … Ready Or Not in 2001 you released Well … You Started It in 2007. How easy was it to write new material?
Steve has been writing songs since he was 15 and has never stopped so it was easy for him to write some more Fast Cars style songs which we used on Well You Started It. Some could easily have been written in the ’70s. Anytime we get back together we just become those teenage boys wanting to play their own music nothing has changed inside of us.
LTW: As well as the 2001 trip to Japan you returned for dates in 2008. How did those gigs compare, did you find a new younger fan base?
A lot of those who came to see us in 2001 also came in 2008. By 2008 a lot more had discovered our music hence being able to play in several other cities around the country using The Bullet Train as our tour bus, totally amazing experience! The audience in Japan was always a lot younger than us, around 20 years on average, a lot now follow us on Social Media, and from that I managed to track down the girl who got on stage in Tokyo and sang along, which can be heard on the live track.
LTW: When did you become aware of the Emily’s Army cover? Were you aware of the Green Day connection straight away?
Since 2001 I have constantly searched the web for information on Fast Cars, some information I didn’t know or remember myself! One day I found the cover by Emily’s Army and contacted the band and was blown away when they said Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day) had suggested they cover it (and later produced it for their 2nd album). That’s when I found out his son was the drummer! When they toured the UK they asked us to be special guests on the bill at Sound Control Manchester, their singer joined us on stage when we played it; and me and Steve went out when they played it, that was the first time we had played to a younger UK audience and we got quite a few new followers from that.
LTW: After this cover was there an increased interest in the band? I guess that Social Media / Streaming was really kicking in at this point so was there an uptake in people searching you out?
Yes, a lot of their followers thought it was their song and were surprised it was from 1979 by an unknown UK band so much so someone put our version on YouTube and it’s had over 105,000 views and the latest is Spotify where it’s had over 56,000 plays both increasing daily.
LTW: You’ve gigged sporadically over the years but sadly Craig Hilton, ‘the man behind the sound of the band‘, passed away in January. Is Once Again … I’m Lost For Words the ‘full stop’ for Fast Cars?
We hope not, we are still saddened about Craig’s passing, we have known him for over 50 years as he was a school friend of Steve’s long before the bands. We have a few guitarists in mind that we would like to rehearse with, just waiting on when it’s safe. There is already a gig next February for the Pete Shelley Memorial Campaign in his hometown of Leigh and others pencilled in waiting on the outcome.