Dead Belgian and other musical ventures: Andy Delamere Interview
A presence on the Liverpool music scene for the past quarter of a century, Andy Delamere, drummer with The Wizards of Twiddly, Dead Belgian and Emily and The Faves talks to Nerve.
By Richard Lewis - 9/3/2012
Formed in 1988, Liverpool based prog-pop band The Wizards of Twiddly (right) have plotted their own individualistic course, releasing three albums Independent Legs (1992) Man Made Self (1994) and last year’s People with Purpose on their own Fracture for Pleasure record label.
Suffusing a bewildering number of influences together, the band’s dexterity means they can master several musical genres, usually at the same time. Encompassing bludgeoning speed metal, prog, Beefheartian psychedlia and what sounds like incidental music from 1970s BBC sitcoms such as The Good Life, People with Purpose races through all of them with aplomb.
Sat in a Lark Lane pub, Andy Delamere recalls the Twids’ formation. ‘Me, Andy (Frizzell) and Simon (James) all met at college in the early Eighties. I was a massive fan of early Genesis, I still am, and they were into Jethro Tull and King Crimson and Pink Floyd. We all have that in common, along with a huge Ian Dury and Bowie influence.’ The trio, effectively the band’s rhythm section were augmented by guitarist Carl Bowry and trumpeter Martin Smith to create the band’s line up, now in its twenty-fourth year.
A prime influence in The Wizards of Twiddly’s approach, early eighties indie outfit The Cardiacs blended prog rock’s musical ability with punk’s fury, giving the band a genuinely original sound. A side effect was to create one of the most unfortunately named sub-genres in rock music history, the woefully titled ‘pronk’.
Like them, the present band tangled with the age-old problem of bands being pigeonholed into various sub-genres they don’t fell part of.
The early 1990s in particular was a minefield of blurred categorizations and unclear sub-genres. By 1993 The Levellers were the hippest band in the country, the music press frequently branding their rootsy, eco-concerned lyrics and dress sense ‘crusty’ (a term the band despised) ‘In the crusty era, we got bracketed into ‘prog’, but all the crusties thought we were quite indie and all the indie kids thought we were quite proggy’ Andy recalls of the confusion. ‘We weren’t or aren’t a fashion band’ he shrugs.
‘I hate givens’ Andy says, emphasizing the word, ‘You just take influences from everywhere’ on the band’s across the board inspirations. Moving to Liverpool from his native Burnely in 1984, Andy was amazed to see ‘Working class kids listening to Genesis, the Floyd and Zappa’, the fascination with Pink Floyd one that endures in the city to this day. ‘That’s Liverpool being its own thing, I picked up on it after only a few hours of being in college’ Andy says.
Despite a distinct lack of support from the NME (‘Scouse Gets’ 1993), The Wizards of Twiddly won the approval of a high-profile fan, a major influence on the group. Andy takes up the story, ‘We took a gig poster into Probe and the only time they acknoleged us or gave us any credibility was when we were playing with (Soft Machine founder) Kevin Ayers. I asked them to put it up and they went ‘Yeah’ (dismissively) and when I was walking towards the door I heard them go, (impressed) ‘Kevin Ayers! They’re playing with Kevin Ayers!’
The collaboration with the former Soft Machine guitarist lasted a full year and saw the group tour as his backing band. ‘We were touring Germany with him in a battered van on ten pound a day’ Andy recalls. ‘It’s like National Service for bands really.’ A recording of a London gig Turn the Lights Down – Live in London 1995 surfaced in 2000, released by Market Square Records.
In addition to the man himself, the band found themselves in exalted company by joining the long list of musicians Ayers has worked with. The most famous of these, comprising Ayers, Cale, Nico, Eno saw the Soft Machine alumnus working with half of The Velvet Underground and Roxy Music’s mad professor on a live recording of a one-off concert, June 1 1974.
Once the ‘Year Zero’ attitude had subsided, many of those from the punk/new wave era could be heard championing acts that they previously would have been mocked for. ‘We read an interview were Mark E. Smith said he was a huge fan of Jethro Tull, including Thick as a Brick so we considered asking if we could do it live with him!’Andy says.
‘I think that’s what’s confused people’ Andy grins about The Wizards of Twiddly uncategorisable sound, ‘Me and Andy particularly are into quirky pop music. I think that’s why we like Emily’s stuff. It reminds of Kevin Ayers, Syd Barrett or Arthur Lee’s songs. Also, I always wanted to play drums in a band a bit like The Smiths.’
A core member of Emily and The Faves (left), alongside lead singer-songwriter Emily Lansley (also of Stealing Sheep) and Andy Frizzell, the trio, with walk-on parts by other Liverpool based musicians recorded last year’s superb eponymous debut LP. ‘I came up with the name The Faves, ‘cos it’s sort of a collective thing’ Andy says of the band’s eternally regenerating membership.
Returning to The Wizards of Twiddly, the group landed on BBC Radio One’s afternoon show in 1996, in classic fashion en route to a gig when they heard current single ‘Sex, Drugs and Morris Dancing’ over the airwaves. Despite this and a live session on Mark Radcliffe’s now legendary ten til midnight show on the same station, the band disintegrated later the same year.
While in stasis, the members of the Twids worked on other projects, stacking up an impressive list of moonlighting sessions as a result. Guitarist Carl Bowry worked with OMD, Super Furry Animals’ debut album Fuzzy Logic features the talents of the Twiddly’s brass players as does early work by cult Welsh psych-folk act Gorky’s Zygotic Mynki. ‘Andy and Simon have written for every theatre company in Liverpool’ Andy says of his fellow band members.
Reassembling, refreshed in 2004 following a sold-out gig at The Zanzibar, plans were made for an LP after new songs were showcased on the night. Pieced together over four years, People with Purpose announced the band’s return in some style, with a bulging list of guest contributors and exemplary playing by all concerned. No less a luminary than the late Jimmy Carl Black, a member of Frank Zappa’s The Mothers of Invention and Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band contributes vocals on two tracks, ‘Ping-Pong Head’ and Blaxploitation tribute ‘Hooverman’.
A memorable quote courtesy of former snooker champion Steve Davis (owner of a vast vinyl collection) last year has been reprinted dozens of times. ‘Steve Davis came down to one of our gigs and a few weeks later he was filling in for Jarvis Cocker on the radio (BBC 6Music) and said on air we were ‘The best band ever to come out of Liverpool’. He was being slightly tongue-in-cheek, but that was an amazing programme he did, playing bands you could call prog but without all the wizards and elves stuff.’
Changing tack entirely from TWOD’s prog-pop, Andy’s energies at present are focused on Dead Belgian (right). A project that celebrates the work of legendary chansonier Jacques Brel, the quartet release their debut album of Brel numbers this month. While Brel remains a cult hero in Britain and the States, in the French speaking world the singer’s fame is equivalent to that of Bob Dylan. His work brought to a greater audience via covers performed by Sinatra, Scott Walker and Marc Almond, the musical backdrops to his work are a pronounced influence on David Bowie and Pulp.
‘It’s very different to the Twiddly’s stuff, a different kind of audience as well I think’ Andy nods when asked about the gulf between the two bands. The quartet’s debut album, Love and Death: The Songs of Jacques Brel in sharp contrast to the long gestation period of People with Purpose was recorded in two days with a minimum amount of overdubs.
With songs in both French and English, actress-singer Fionnuala Dorrity takes on the considerable task of vocal duties. ‘Fionnuala sings a bit like Edith Piaf’ Andy notes, ‘So it’ll sound like Piaf singing Jacques Brel songs’, adding extra piquancy to the material. Wit Andy on percussion and vocals, fellow Wizard Simon James on sax and flute, the quartet are completed by Mathew Wood on piano (and vitally for French sung music) accordion.
While the principal reason for the project was understandably band’s huge admiration for Brel’s work, Dead Belgian was partially driven by a desire for his songs to be performed properly. ‘Some of the English translations are more like English versions’ Andy explains. ‘The current translation of ‘If You Go Away’ is still a great song, but it’s nowhere near as desperate. A lot of the translations were done for a sixties stage show.’
The 1968 off-Broadway production Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, while bringing the singer’s work to a larger audience diluted many of the song’s meanings in favour of smoother translations. In an audacious plan to remedy this, the band plan to assemble the words for future projects from scratch, as Andy says, ‘We’re hoping to do our own translations of the songs for the next album.’
Before that however is the launch gig for Love and Death. The band’s first Liverpool booking in some time, the show at The Kazimier features Stealing Sheep as main support, returning the favour after Dead Belgian featured on a launch bill with them last year. Similarly The Wizards of Twiddly are set to tread the boards of the city’s venues soon, as are Emily and The Faves with both set to play at the Free Rock and Roll Festival early next month.
Dead Belgian play The Kazimier on March 9th 2012 supported by Stealing Sheep.
The album Love & Death: The Songs of Jacques Brel is released on Mar 12th, the CD will also be on sale at the gig.
Emily and The Faves and The Wizards of Twiddly play the Free Rock & Roll Festival Weekend at Mello Mello 7th April – 9th April
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