By fanatics for fanatics; that’s what they used to say in days of yore. I have one intention in writing this piece and that is to convert you into the Church of Surf and Destroy. After you’ve read this, you are heading down to your local CD/record shop and laying money down. If you’re too young to understand the value of an artefact or you’ve grown too old and too fat to leave your door then you are just going to have to download. That’s the way it is. And if Jeremy Gluck brings one of his bands to your town there will be no excuses taken, even if you have to put in a bigger door.
The story of the Barracudas began at the fag end of the '70s. The punk rock blitzkrieg had rolled across Europe and the world. Dynasties of faded rock aristocracy had been shown the bloody axe. The dreary monolith we call the music industry sat weeping on its caned and sorry arse. Around it laid the smitten careers and smouldering merchandising dreams of an army of hacks and sycophants. Frampton would no longer come alive. To Yes we said no. To Bachman Turner Overdrive we said as little as possible and pretended they never existed in the first place. Surely, we were victorious, happy and glorious. The war against the jive had been fought and won.
Why then was the radio still so awful? If anything, it had gotten worse. Where were the spoils of our rebellion, the laurels of pure listening pleasure? The gates came down, the doors were kicked in and you could do anything. Why was everyone suddenly going out of their way to do it all wrong?
Musically, the Barracudas did everything exactly right. And I’m not throwing in any journalistic hyperbole when I say that. I’m not going to toss in words like awesome, amazing or brilliant just to brighten up the page at the expense of the language. Get it straight. The Barracudas did everything exactly right. If you’d have given them a test, they would have scored a hundred per cent. They woul have got the Honours with their degrees. If you made a heap then they would have been top of the pile. They should have been Gods but they lived in a world that wanted U2 to be the biggest band in the world. There is no accounting for bad taste, merely accountants with the worst taste possible.
Bono gets down with the Pope and Sting crosses his legs before the Dali Lama. No-one, and I mean no-one, has the common decency to take Elton John out into a back alley and put a bullet through his brain. The stadiums keep filling and the people, bless their little cotton socks, even deem Phil Collins worthy of a career. These are the '80s that towered before us and we soon find out what it means to be abased.
The Barracudas persevered despite the indifference they met along the way. You may ask what has allowed them to stay the test of time? What is it that made them special? Well, I think these are questions best answered side on.
In 1973, Kevin Johnson wrote a song called "Rock and Roll (I gave you all the best years of my life)". His Australian publisher had no faith in the song, a dreary middle of the road/country style ditty that told the tale of a man whose love for rock and roll remained unrequited. It became a smash hit and was covered by about a million other equally dreary artists. My own problem with the song is that Kevin didn't really seem to love rock and roll at all. He didn’t really seem to get it. It didn't seem to give him any kind of pleasure. Kevin was just a whining old git who was pissed off because rock and roll had failed completely and utterly to make him rich and famous. Worse yet, the minute he jumped on the Nashville bandwagon, he was rewarded in spades. The public just loves it when you turn your back from your life of sin.
In 1992, the Barracudas recorded "The Best Years" on their "Wait for Everything" LP. The lyrics describe a similar scenario with one crucial difference. There was no repentance for the Barracudas. It doesn't matter how rock and roll has treated you and how many times the fickle finger of fate has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, your love for rock and roll seems undiminished. Your love for it is a joy and reward in itself.
“Last night I rehearsed with my band in a little local bar - well, one of my bands, I have a few or more - and a very drunk Glaswegian fellow came up afterwards. When told by our guitarist that I was in The Barracudas, he immediately launched into an enthused and soused rendition of that song’s chorus, followed by numerous handshakes, a hug, and much humbling and bemusing verbiage.”
That’s Barracudas vocalist Jeremy Gluck talking. In the UK, Cherry Red Records are about to release six CDs worth of Barracudas’ back catalogue. He’s just released a new solo album and there’s a single in the works in collaboration with Martin Thau. It was high time the I-94 Bar invited him in for a drink
“It reminded me of my favourite fan encounter many years ago. After a show in France or perhaps Spain, a very intense young fan confronted me with, ‘I love you too much!’ I could only agree.
”These charming anecdotes go back to the point, however. Those I am privileged to have as fans of my music bear the same brand as I: love for rock and roll. For the artist it is not only receptive – although the fan does have a highly creative role, it is more reactive than active and involves internalising and personalising their experience of the artist’s work – but creative, too. I love rock’n’roll because my enchantment with it has been synonymous with my ability and opportunity to create. Rock’n’roll is one of the easiest things on this planet to create. In a sense, rock’n’roll trusted me to create. I couldn’t play an instrument or even really sing. Yet with rock’n’roll I was immediately credible to at least a few. Not long afterwards thousands were buying records by my band. The part of myself that emerged to play rock’n’roll music was and is still to this day the part I love the most and sometimes the only part I love; authentic, unapologetic, genuine and full of conviction. Loving rock’n’roll in my case connects me to what has made my life worthwhile and interesting. And not only rock’n’roll now, because it keeps moving and mutating, working with cool people, closing circles and opening others. Rock’n’roll has done me only good. Fountain of youth, fountain of truth, whatever; rock’n’roll is love.”
I told him that I couldn't agree more. When I was growing up, the first music that turned my head was seeing a video of Suzi Quatro playing "Devil Gate Drive". It was singularly the most exciting thing I had ever seen in my life up until that point. I was captivated from that moment. After seeing that, I wanted my entire life to be about Rock and Roll. I began the search for the bigger and badder kicks. Suddenly, I was a Lester Bangs’ Creem article away from the Dolls, the Stooges et al. I asked Jeremy about how he’d discovered rock’n’roll.
“Growing up, my older brother was my main influence in matters musical. Being seven years older, he was into the Mothers in ’64, he was a real hippy. He went to see the Stooges in ’73. I was always aware of the music he listened to. A turning point was when he gave me The Who’s ‘Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy’, The Stooges’ ‘Funhouse‘ and ‘White Light, White Heat’ by the Velvets. That was the turning point from which there was no return. I fell in love with The Who for a start and still adore them. The Stooges, well, at that time Iggy wasn’t a bore, he was a revolutionary, and I fell in love with him and his band, too. ‘Sister Ray’, meanwhile, became my lullaby.
“The local hockey arena, and opera house, doubled as the big gig and I saw some remarkable shows at both. Springsteen in 1975 was an epiphany. Then came the Ramones, who actually did change my life. They were my excuse and reason to believe that I could do it: sing, start a band, make a single. There were other moments; seeing the Dolls on Midnight Special, for example. My great friends, the Jones brothers, were obsessed with rock’n’roll and one of them really got me into the Groovies, who became a huge influence on me so that when Chris Wilson joined The Barracudas it was surreal and very exciting.”
Jeremy had grown up in Ottawa in Canada. For any of you with no sense of geography, that’s a small city just north of the border from New York State. It’s amazing how much history is common to kids growing up in this era; the kids who went on to take up an interest in rock’n’roll, anyway. I remember I had a copy of ”White Light” and the Dolls first. I had a friend who had “Funhouse” and someone else’s older brother had “Kick Out the Jams”.
Even back then it made little tribes out of us. All over the world these cornerstone albums were working their magic. In New York, London, Sydney, Brisbane and all points to Outer Mongolia, people heard them, loved them and decided to make that kind of racket themselves. Suddenly, we had punk. It wasn’t long before people started gravitating towards the cultural hubs. Jeremy was no exception.
“I was obsessed by things British from the age of maybe 8-9. I was pulled to London magnetically...past-lives, I dunno... it was a strong attraction, though! I knew by my early teens that first chance I got I would go to London...not New York or Los Angeles like everybody else. And when punk broke, I had to go. It was essential to witness the new explosion...the new rock'n'roll... I'd missed the '60s and I was not going to blow it. So I quit high school, spent part of a modest inheritance and flew to London. And within a few days of being there I felt at home for the first time in my life.”
“Later in 1977, I was at the Speakeasy in Soho late one night watching the excellent but little known Canadian band Dead Fingers Talk run through their set. The Unwanted were also on the bill (they appear on the ‘Live At The Roxy’ compilation LP). Robin (Wills) had been playing with them and happened to overhear me chatting up some woman about his favourite bands, more specifically garage punk bands, and most specifically, The Seeds.”
“I noticed a short and shady figure lurking nearby, apparently eavesdropping. My conversation with the broad concluded and the lurker lurched forward and simply asked whether I had been discussing The Seeds. It was Robin, alright...and we soon were ranting and raving about our shared - and at that time, still niche - interests. A day or two later I went to the 'burbs where Robin was living with his folks and he introduced me to his extraordinary record collection.”
With Wills taking on guitar duties, the band began to take shape. With Nicky Turner on drums and David Buckley on bass, the line-up was complete. Right from the get go, they had fantastic material. I asked Jeremy if the band formed around the songs or the songs around the band?
“It’s a parallel process but more the songs around the band. Although I sent Robin lyrics before I actually was in London to begin the band – I’d met him, gone back to Canada, returned – that were already early Barracudas stylings like ‘Love Is Fun’ and ‘If She Cries’ (available on ‘The Big Gap’) the idea of the band was the main thing, which revolved around a love of pure pop and pure punk, in the latter case notably garage, which at the time was only becoming the retro force it is now. Robin and I had a great rapport about our influences and interests. It wasn’t long before drugs, girlfriends and other factors caused strains, but we always had a good working relationship. Our stroke of genius was being totally out front with our influences and love of rock’roll. At a time of New Romantics and other ugly mutations, we flew the Flamin’ Groovies flag. In the UK they damned us for it, but the Europeans loved it. Plus I always loved flaunting theft; rock’n’roll music should always mind the family line."
Theft has always played a part in Rock and Roll, it's true. Some times, however, that theft is more blatant than others. On the "Teenage Head" LP, the Flamin' Groovies took song writing credits for some songs (ie "Doctor Boogie") that bore more than a close resemblance to the more obscure corners of the Sun Records back catalogue. Led Zepplin, too, had a fondness for recycling old blues standards under an alleged Plant/Page authorship.
But theft isn’t everything. If it were, tribute bands would be the greatest rock and roll bands of all. Now I know that statement will promote some sniggering in the back row. If you ask the promoter’s on the Sydney entertainment scene who they want to book, they just want anyone except original artists. Hell, last week even I was approached by someone who thought we could clean up on the club circuit with a Ramones tribute band. This town needs an enema. I had to disrespectfully decline. There’s theft and there’s flogging your arse to a dead horse.
All the best thefts add a little bit extra to the story. Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" may have been the starting point for Brian Wilson's "Surfin' USA" but something new was spawned in the taking. Besides, it’s not as if Chuck hadn’t heard Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88” before launching into his first duckwalk. Come to think of it, didn’t old Ike pilfer that from Jimmy Liggins’ “Cadillac Boogie”?
Whilst the Barracudas wore their influences on their sleeves, they added so much of your own to those influences. The lyrics of songs like "Surfers are back" and "Subway Surfing" had a delightful self knowledge of their own absurdity ("There ain't no scene for surfers, that's the reason why we shouldn't wipe out"). "The KGB made a man out of me" winked knowingly at half a dozen pop songs from our childhoods where secret agent men spied for the FBI. However, all these songs kind of lyrically placed you in a position of outsiders or being on the wrong side of the tracks.
“The lyrics you cite that I wrote, like “Subway Surfing” and “The KGB..” were very much a product of my background. Robin wrote just as many it is worth remembering, though his had a slightly different sensibility. To understand my lyrics of this kind, my “pop” lyrics (sic), imagine a young person growing up in a skewed Woody Allen world, mentored by an older brother into all things counterculture, and absorbing early 70’s television like a sponge. I always had a great love of wordplay and am myself absurd so I suppose these gems were inevitably to be produced.
“As far as how stuff is influenced, that is a question at the heart and soul ot rock’n’roll. You quoted a lyric as “There ain’t no scene for surfers.” In point of pedantic fact, the line is “There ain’t no sea for surfers.” However, your line is better, it’s cooler and more Barracudas-worthy. In this touchy parable lives and breathes everything the neophyte need know about the OCD world of the terminal music fan, and how what he hears becomes what he is, a part of him and then a part of what he does later as an artist himself. When I was a teen I couldn’t understand half of what Jagger and Iggy and other seminal singers sang. So I would knowingly or unknowingly use my own words to their songs. I mostly didn’t know until I found lyrics somehow that I was inventing their lyrics and it always disappointed me a little that after having lived so long with lyrics more personal to me – because mine were of course a projection of myself – I had to surrender them to the “real” thing. This is how it works: what you are hits what you hear and what flies off becomes what you do. What flew off of me from hearing The Stooges and The Beach Boys and The Who and who knows how many other bands is what became “Subway Surfing” and the others. The self-knowledge stemmed from my own vast and accursed intellect and insight.
“We write about what we know. If we’re smart. When I met Brian Wilson, I mentioned I was having trouble coming up with any lyrics. He asked, simply, ‘Do you have any children?’ I said, ‘Yeah’. He said, “Write about them.’ That’s wisdom.
“Speaking of cool anecdotes, one not personal to me but worth retelling: Years ago I read an interview with Keith Richards in which the questioner pointed out that ‘All Down the Line’ from “Exile on Main Street” sounded like a Chuck Berry song. Richards (with his usual sage and sardonic wit) replied, ‘They all do’.
“This is the essence of it. How does an album as insanely derivative as ‘Exile on Main Street’ sound so singular and original? How, at a lower level, does a ‘Subway Surfing”’ seem so fresh when, clearly, it is festooned with the encrustations of a dozen other artsits and songs? There is an alchemical process in creativity whereby one absorbs integrates and reinvents influences; this we know. Then there is the conscious desire to pay homage; for example, my talking part in ‘His Last Summer’ (my favorite Barrcudas song by a long mile) where I say ‘A young man is gone’, which is a nod to a Beach Boys song. The funny thing is that for a band so derivative and sometimes derided or dismissed for being same, The Barracudas were from day one so original. For sure a lot of people didn’t get and/or like The Barracudas’ style and content, our goofy, gawky songs or our dopey attitude. In retrospect, and although I find some of our early canon embarrassing, we got it pretty much spot on."
And they did. If you want proof, check out the first disc of the “This ain’t my time” anthology CD. The sixties roots of the music are plain to see but the interpretation and attitude is pure seventies punk. Whilst some of the material clearly had a tongue firmly planted in its cheek, the joke was never at the expense of the songs or the spirit behind them. It wasn’t long before someone wanted to record the band.
"It’s hard to now imagine London in 1978-9 and the music scene therein. Punk had punked out, New Romantics were spawning, The Smiths were years away. There was a thriving fringe scene with all the bands that didn’t fit anywhere else, and we were very a popular feature of it. Hanging around the scene was a nice, young Jewish fellow named Geoff Mann, whose small label had released a Ripchords single. He was a surf music obsessive, and of course came across the ‘cudas and fell in love. I have very fond memories of those times, of Letraset-ing the sleeve at work on the sly, of Geoff devouring fish and chips in my front room while we talked shop, of (John) Peel playing “Woody” the first time I heard it. Anyhow, Geoff stuck us in a little studio in Soho and we did “I Want My Woody Back”. Robin had called one day and sung it to me down the line, it was clearly brilliant, I supplied the talking part. “Subway Surfing”, I think, originally came to me as a Dolls spoof of some kind. “Woody” was a major indie hit and set the stage for all that followed, good and bad. And indifferent."
EMI picked you up and your first single with them charted. What did that feel like?
"I wish I could say. It was a blur then and it’s about 30 years ago now. They hyped it a fair bit, it went in and out of the chart and finally stuck in the lower Top 40, so it was not a smash. It was all surreal. I never liked the song much and refused for a long time to play it live. It was recorded partly in The Who’s Ramport Studios, though, and I adore The Who. So that was cool. Overall my associations with the song are a tad negative, just me, it has done well for us over the years and people love it. I’m just a bum…"
The Top of the Pops performance was, however, particularly manic with you being memorably over the top. You did a wonderful job in remaining stoically out of synch with the backing track.
"It was the first week of September in the year 1980. We got a few days notice that we would be on TOTP: the chart came out Monday and on Wednesday we recorded the song at the BBC studio for broadcast the next day. We were on with The Skids and Judas Priest! It was exciting and bewildering. Our girlfriends came on down, I almost fell off of the stage, and yes my lip-synching was lip-stinking."
I remember you playing a gig just after the release of "His Last Summer" at a pub near Regent's Park. You announced it as being your new single that bounced into the charts at number 97 and bounced right out again. Was the relationship with EMI/Zonophone already as strained as that sounded? I certainly remember that it was hard to get hold of those later EMI singles at the time even in places like the Virgin Megastore at Tottenham Court Road. It seemed EMI just stopped placing the product.
"It was and down. “His Last Summer” stiffed because there was a strike at the EMI plant and the singles couldn’t get anywhere. After that it got worse. Our original A&R man left and the new guy was a jerk. Then EMI lost faith in our commerciality, because we were straying into our garage thing. I think EMI did work the stuff and the publishing arm tried to help us, but it was always the wrong label, wrong people and so on. As with most of our business choices, it was wrong. And yet even so we did wrench some victory from the jaws of defeat. “Drop Out” is still loved, the band is more popular than ever, and the music is still all out there; in fact this every autumn Cherry Red Records is reissuing six of our albums. As they say in The Wire, It’s all in the game".
In spite of EMI’s growing lack of interest, Drop out was a great album. I bought it on cassette and played it literally until the sound wiped itself.
"On cassette? I’ll send you ten big ones right now for that, mate!"
If I still had it, I would give it to you but I really did play it until it wiped itself. Luckily there was a Spanish vinyl re-release and then CDs. It seemed strange that EMI couldn't see the commercial potential at the time. It has certainly managed to stay in print in many forms and on many labels over the decades. Could you talk about the whole "Two sides of the Barracudas" concept and the move towards garage?
"EMI could see the potential, but we were raw, had crap management, were unruly live and then started listing heavily garageboard. To begin with the band was playing a broad spectrum of styles, from “King of the Surf” to Stooges numbers. We made a conscious decision to choose the least likely style we played and hammer it, to get attention from media and to distinguish us from the pack. This proved very successful; the media loved the idea of a surf punk bank skulking around Portobello, and Mods and other disaffected young people who liked Sixties music before it was hip again to do so rejoiced in our demented defiance of post-punk, po-faced, Joyless Division norms. When we were recording "Drop Out", under the nervous eye of our pop-picking A&R man, we realised it was becoming more or less than a pop/novelty album of the kind EMI signed us up to make. Robin and I conceived of the “up” and “down” side to guide happy shoppers. We were always totally into garage, I had “Nuggets” when I was like 15, and Robin was an obsessive fan who then ventured into folk-rock and psychedelic music. “Somebody” was my tour de force Standells vocal attempt. We just ripped off who we could play well enough to at that point, but all the while a very unique identity was incubating.
"My vocals on “Drop Out” are largely, uh, out. My initial sweet and melodious tones (witness “Woody”) were soon corrupted by excessive smoking and a lot of gigging. I always had horrible tuning problems; to say I have imperfect pitch is to say that the siege of Stalingrad seem to drag a bit."
I think Jeremy may be exaggerating. Just like Joey Ramone, the vocals on those recordings have a tremendous warmth that more than make up for any technical shortcomings. There are things he loves about the disc.
"I love “His Last Summer”, which is my favourite Barracudas song and the one where for me all our best early elements shone. My vocal is so great tuning doesn’t come into it. The talking part is genius. The drum sound is awesome, especially the surgically clean snare. The backing vocals by Dave and Nick sound authentic. It’s witty, it rocks, it has a cool chorus. It died in the charts.
"'Codeine' is based on The Leaves version Robin found on one of his thousand garage albums. I love singing this song and still perform it to this day. This is one many songs we recorded early on that became much better live. Sadly, our only real live album of the prime period features a very drunk Chris Wilson playing badly out of tune. Sigh.
“'1965 Again' I have a major soft spot for, especially the outro I scribbled on a series of napkins at dinner before we went back in the studio, where in a somewhat assisted state I put it down for posterity.
"I also like 'On the Strip', another crisp snare number with great lyrics by Robin (I contributed the “Jan and Dean…” line!) and a sweet twang guitar thing at the end. Perfect."
The EMI period yielded amazing work but poor sales (by EMI’s standards). It wasn’t long before the band was shown the door by their erstwhile employers. Drummer Nicky Turner saw what he thought was a sinking ship and swam off to join the Lords of The New Church with Dead Boy Stiv Bators and the Damned Brian James. A lot of bands would have called it a day at this point but not the Barracudas.
The drum stool rotated, first with Graeme Potter and then Terry Smith. Jeremy and Robin then made plans for the rest of the rhythm section.
"After EMI dropped us a period of restless downtime ensued. We played live but it was all a bit aimless. Jim Dickson, Robin had met through some mutual friends and knew from The Passengers. I think I met him at Gossip’s one night in 1981. He said he came to the UK wanting to play either with us or The Soft Boys. He was clearly a lovely guy – we were close friends thereafter for a time – and a great, great bassist. The guy is a fantastic musician, to put it mildly. I guess we asked him to come aboard after we ejected Dave; I remember rehearsing with him and our early gigs together. His playing pulled it all together, now that I think of it."
Defeated? Not likely. The fact is, the Barracudas came back with “Inside Mind” one of the mightiest singles ever recorded; a perfectly crafted piece of song writing that still leaves my jaw dropped to the floor whenever I hear it. If you’ve never heard it, don’t be surprised. The Barracudas had gone from the biggest label in the world to perhaps the smallest.
"Frenchy Gloder’s very DIY label Flicknife was starting up based on a bunch of old Hawkwind cast-offs he got cheap from the United Artists collapse. Being French, and therefore a diehard lover of rock’n’roll at a time when it was out of fashion, he recognised in The Barracudas the real thing. I recall him coming to see us at The Rock Garden and agreeing to do a single, which became “Inside Mind”. Frenchy was a great character, if later a sometimes troublesome junkie (which didn’t stop him making my “I Knew Buffalo Bill” album possible, bless him!) and a true believer. Later we began recording an album for him that after a hiccup we re-recorded as “Meantime”. “Inside Mind” hipped a lot of Sixties fans to the band and it is one of Robin’s greatest riffs. My drug lyric pleasingly authentic (I wonder why?) and the outro, though I heard it much more elegantly executed inside my mind works even so."
Okay, time gents. It’s time to do your talking out on the streets. The Barracudas would go on for another decade of great recording including the surprise arrival of a Flamin’ Groovie but that’s a story for another day.