Tara Milton is the former lead singer of early 90’s Mod, Pop bandits 5.30. He hasn’t been heard of in over 20 years, lying low, working on his stunning debut album Serpentine Waltz. Matt Mead catches up with Tara to discuss what Tara has been up to in his 20 year hiatus and what the future holds for Tara.
It’s been a 20 year hiatus since Tara recorded the album Mindblender with his band The Nubiles, a record that contained an eclectic collection of punky pop songs. The Nubiles were described as ‘weird crazy diverse weird sexual jazz punk layabouts with enough talent to fill a stadium’. Before that Tara found unbounded critical acclaim with Five Thirty. They only released one album Bed in 1991 and a handful of singles but along with their unforgettable powerful and tight gigs this was enough to cement them in the hearts of admirers forever. So much so, Bed was a expanded version re-release in 2013 which sold out straight away.
It’s been a long time since Tara made a record in earnest. He felt it was time for him to stand on his own two feet for a while. Tara explains ‘I made a silent pact to myself, that I should return to the world, and come what may, if I were any kind of writer, then surely life would provide all of the necessary ingredients for me to furnish my songs’.
This collection of songs, Serpentine Waltz, represent to some extent, Tara getting on his feet over the years. The songs are ‘kitchen sink dramas’ but with the abstract twists and a late night vibe! The title track, Serpentine Waltz, is set in an apocalyptical London, the city is burning like Carthage and the song’s protagonist escapes to the sanctuary of the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park. Gazing into the water he sees the reflection of a beckoning and beautiful face. Maybe it’s the ghost of Harriot Shelly, who drowned herself, which her wandering poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley deserted her for Paris in 1816? Waiting On A Postcard tells the forlorn tale of the late great American folk singer Jackson C Frank who came to London in the early 1960’s.
Mid-album there is a resplendent 10-minute schizophrenic epic Double Yellow (Line 1 & 2). Tara is at the top of his game musically with fantastic lyrics to boot. ‘Across the street in the gutter on the kerb, he was down and out disturbed, all rags and bones and mumbling rhymes on the subject of double yellow lines’. Then, when you think it’s all over the song has a Tales Of The Unexpected type twist and turns into a funky psychedelic jam as Henry Miller spews his disgust of the city.
But it’s certainly not all doom and gloom. There are joyful moments too! A Song To The Open road is a pure celebration of life. Cape Horn and Treasure Hunters sing of encountering joy in the simplest of domestic circumstances! A lovers laugh at a joke on the TV, the sound of children’s voices rolling off a street on a summers evening. Getting It On With Man In The Moon boasts one of the most uplifting and soulful choruses you will hear all year! ‘I spoke too soon and now the man in the moon is getting it on with you’. A smoky saxophone breaks out mid song to join the piano and bass and evokes feelings of life in Parisian cafes.
Laying Low In Chicken Town has a cool trip hop vide where Tara sings ‘guess who’s sedating now’ as brass and Hammond organ team up with ‘Godfather’ mandolins, bewitching backing vocals and a dirty, sleazy guitar solo.
It has not been a quick and easy album for Tara to record but he has had the humility to draw on other musicians and professionals to help him realise his aspirations. There have been trips to the studio with the awesome guitarist Barrie Cadogan (of Little Barrie) who has sessioned for a whole host of luminaries no less, Paul Weller and Edwyn Collins. Long term friend Giorgio Curcetti has played strange and wonderful instruments such as the aud and mandolin, there were brass sessions with Sean Read who recorded most of the sessions and is currently a member of Kevin Rowland’s Dexy’s. Finally the record has been given the expertise production touches by Sam Williams (The Go Team, Supergrass, Plan B, Kula Shaker, JJ Cale, David Bowie) a multi-platinum music producer, award winning film composer, songwriter, mixer, and multi-instrumentalist.
Interview with Tara:
Can you tell us about about your background, where you grew up etc…?
I was Born in Poole Dorset, but only lived there for a few months until my parents divorced and then I moved moved back to Oxfordshire in the countryside. My family all worked as residential care nurses on a hospital for the mentally disabled, which was basically a lunatic asylum, but it was lovely there, large spacious grounds and a nice calming environment. I went to junior and senior school in that area too.
What was the first music you remember listening to?
Even from an early age I remember the song Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by Middle Of The Road and I used to get really excited as a kid when that came on the radio or TV, the song was relevant at the time because my Mum would leave me in the care of a friend of hers when she was off out, so from an early age I could see you could connect this medium with your own life experiences which had a magical aspect to it. It wasn’t too many years later that my Nann gave me a copy of the Jungle Book soundtrack, 12″, for one Christmas and it had loads of great pictures from the movie on the 12″ and all those incredible songs from the Jungle Book movie which are still incredible to this day. Great influence on me. The song with snake singing to the boy, with the whole trust in me lyric and the psychedelic eyes is the movie, this was a very very powerful medium and influence on me. I’m sure every kid felt like that when they first heard and saw that. When I was abit older and able to choose my own music the single I bought as The Beat Mirror In The Bathroom.
What was the first serious music you got into?
The first album I bought was Abbey Road by The Beatles. I used to play the record on Sunday afternoons round at my nann’s house. It’s such a dark album in places, it literally makes you think the worlds has spotted spinning as you listen to it. When I listened to this it was back in the mid 70’s and Britian was a bit of a dark place at the time, schools were quite depressing but the album introduced me to another angle of music where you could turn something quite depressing into something beautiful. At that same age I was also into The Police, The Jam and through The Jam I got into The Byrds and then you get into a big network of music.
Did all these musical influences, influence you to pick up the guitar/bass?
Another big influence as a kid was our step Dad who used to take us out in his car and play music Tamla Motown and Soul, which really hit the spot with me. You weren’t familiar what was making the sounds on the record which was fascinating to me. The one aspect that drew me in more than anything was the bass guitar. One minute it’s there and then the next minute it’s gone, then they mix in the guitar and is imagine the person playing the bass is the person everyone is looking at and waiting on to take control of the music. So there’s where my interest was to play the bass more than any other instrument. So when I listened to the likes of Bruce Foxton, John Entwhistle then Jazz players Marcus Miller, Stanley Clarke and then I really studied the bass as a specialist instrument above and beyond the normal indie bands of the time. There’s a difference between a bass line and some accompanying a song with the bass, I was liked those players that made the bass a big part of the song. So I started with a very bottom of the range instruments, the first bass I had was a make called Earthwood, it was a huge beast, it weighted about 2 tones and the neck almost went into a figure 8. The next bass I had was a Honda bass, the first nice bass guitar I had was a old CBS, which was a Fender made bass 1964 make.
I’ve seen with some of the songs on the new album that they have been around for a bit of time, is that right?
Yeah that’s right. I had a big family of songs which were unrecorded, so it was a case of trying to find the best way of recording the songs with the musicians we had to hand in the studio at the time. I tried a lot of stuff out in the studio that I went back to that I’d written a number of years ago because you don’t want them to stay inside of you, if you didn’t it would drive you mad. I was getting to the point, I need to get these songs out, it’s like a constipation.
Did the songs change in sound when they were recorded or did you stick to a specific sound when you recorded them?
I couldn’t be too choosy. I had a very limited budget and whoever was around on the day is choose a song that I felt, felt right with the players i had with me in the studio at the time. So sometimes things worked and sometimes it didn’t. I knew there were certain songs I wanted to get right and i insisted I wanted to get the sound right in the studio, as close to the mental sound image that I had, which meant recording them a few times. The track Double Yellow lines I tried that one with a few different drummers and musicians. I really wanted it on the record but wasn’t happy with some of the sessions so that took 3 or 4 attempts to get right, so that ended up being a very expensive journey. The engineers I as working with would say ‘yeah, that’ll do’ but it can never be about that’ll do.
Do you have a favourite song I the record or are happy with it an entire piece?
Double Yellow I had to dig deep for that track. I wrote the song in my head when I was swimming in a swimming pool in Japan. I wrote most of the words when I was in that meditative state you get in when you swim after you go through the pain barrier but them after that it took quite a long time to find all the chord changes and get it right. It’s quite a sophisticated song for me with all the chord changes. I do like storytelling songs which that song is, so from Ernie the Fastest Milkman in the West and Down in the Tube Station at Midnight and The Snake by Al Wilson, they all influenced that particular song on the album.
How did you get some of the players to play on the album, such as Barrie Cadogan?
Barrie I knew became he was a fan of 5.30 and he wrote to me asking that we work together. So we met together on a regular basis and who would let someone like Barrie slip through their fingers without trying to work with them and get him onboard for something. He reminds a bit of Paul (guitarist) from 5.30. There are certain individuals who are just born to be writers, painters, guitarist, bobsleigh person, and Barrie’s you can tell had a born God given talent to play the guitar. You cannot be some old Tom dick or Harry and play like Barrie plays.
Do you think you’ll be going out on tour? Would it be a solo or full band tour?
I hope so, I really hope so. I’d like to play the album as close to how it has been recorded which would take up quite a sizeable line up, what with a full band and brass and ethnic instruments, I would love to do that. Failing that I would like to do a slimmed down version, but I will do it in some shape or form. I am thinking of getting a campers van and do a Sea Sick Steve and drive around and just play to the crowds. But we will see, I really want to play live, so watch this space.
All words by Matt Mead. Further articles by Matt can be found at the Louder Than War author archive page.