Loved by some, hated by others, it’s a fact that Sham 69 never ever left anyone indifferent. Outsiders amongst the outsiders, they were the voice of a generation coming straight from the streets and giving right back to the streets. Through their music they gave a home to the homeless and a reason for working class kids to be proud. “Hey little rich boy, take a good look at me!”
But truly, it never mattered whom you were, what you were or where you were from…everyone was welcome and encouraged to join and be part of it. Sham was never about dreams of stardom, limousines and mansions with a pool.
My very first recollection of the band is a video shot at some gig…a fight started in the audience; the gig was stopped. Next thing you know they were back on stage…frontman Jimmy Pursey explaining how they had been told to never come back, then pointing out at the guy who had started the fight he said something which struck me as a kid…something about how that guy could laugh, but that he’d be the one sending letters of complaints for the rest of his life, while the band would always go on stage and always say what they think. Then the band went into a smashing rendition of "If The Kids Are United".
Sham 69 was formed in the working-class community of Hersham (Surrey) in 1975. By the time they released their first album, punk started to spread like wild fire all over the UK. For some it became a fashion, a dress code, an attitude. For these people punk was not really about playing music, because most of them didn’t even bother…you could just buy yourself an image. When today I listen to Sham’s song Rip Off, I have to smirk…things haven’t changed. Too many people try too hard to be something…when punk is really about being yourself. That’s why I always loved Sham 69, because the band was always about being true. I had to wait many years to finally see them, at CBGB’s in August 2005, but I’ll remember that night as one of the most memorable experience of my life.
With “Hollywood Hero”, Sham 69 make their long awaited come-back…minus Jimmy Pursey who is now fronting Day 21…but with the same original sound and spirit that carried Sham through the years. “Hollywood Hero” is certainly their best effort in a long time, and a must-have for every punk rock aficionado. Sham’s new album is a lesson in punk rock, and what a lesson!
Surely one of the most influential guitar players of the Punk Rock scene, Dave Parsons might not always have gotten the recognition he truly deserves, but listen to the complete Sham 69 discography and check out the dates and the facts. Parsons started a sound, then another, and then another…re-creating punk rock again and again, giving it a new boost of life and energy with each and every attempt.
If you’re in a punk band today, you best believe that one way or another you’ve been influenced by Parsons’ playing. You may not be aware of it, but if you aren’t directly copying Sham’s sound, you are probably emulating another band who ripped off Sham, or who ripped off another band that ripped off Sham. There’s nothing wrong with that I guess, Sham certainly did set new standards and raised the bar. I’m merely stating a fact. It’s all in the music, check it out for yourself.
So without further ado, and to celebrate the release of Sham 69’s new album, It’s my great privilege to introduce you to the man behind the music, and as you’re reading these lines, keep in mind that punk rock wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for Mr. Dave Parsons.
How and when did you start playing guitar?
I started when I was about 13, previously I'd been playing violin which gave me a good grounding in music. Becoming aware of rock and pop music at this time was the reason for the switch to guitar. My first guitar was a very cheap Spanish acoustic with a very wide neck, not the easiest guitar to start with, though it soon toughened my fingers up.
What are your main influences? First recollection of r’n’r? What did you listen to as a kid? What turned you on to music?
My first recollections are from about the age of 5, my mum bought the odd pop record and I can remember miming with a piece of wood as a guitar and some string going to a chair leg as the lead to records by the Beatles, Roy Orbison and Eddie Cochran. When I really became hooked was during the early 70s to bands like T.Rex, Slade, David Bowie and stuff like that.
The first band I saw was T.Rex at Wembley Empire pool, this just completely blew me away - I'd neither seen or known anything like this before, the shear power of rock n roll had entered my blood stream, and from that moment on there was nothing else I wanted to do other than play in a band.
While I was still at school I auditioned for a local band who were all about 10 years older than me, this was great education for me, as they were able to turn me on to all sorts of bands I'd never heard of, Credence Clearwater Revival, Iggy Pop,the Stones,
MC5, and a lot of old blues stuff, we also played some Eddie Cochran numbers, this guy has to be one of the main influences on my style of playing.
What bands have you played with? When?
Before Sham I played in a few local bands playing the local scene, ie working mens clubs, weddings etc etc, it didn't matter what they were, it was just great to be out there playing, and to this day I still get the same buzz playing live, for me nothing else comes close. Before Sham split in 1981 we'd played a string of gigs as the Sham/Pistols with Paul Cook on Drums and Steve Jones on second guitar, this was a lot of fun. After Sham split, I kept the band together and contacted an old friend from the States to see if he wanted to form a new band with me, this was Stiv Bators - he agreed and we formed The Wanderers.
I enjoyed this period a lot but it unfortunately ended after a US tour when I was admitted to hospital for 6 weeks with Hepatitis.
Next I formed a band with ex-Girlschool bassist and singer Enid Williams called Framed, this was where I met the future Sham drummer Ian Whitewood (The best drummer I'd ever played with), we were together a few years, but all the industry was interested in was early 80s electronic pop, so we didn't really stand a chance remaining as a guitar band. After that I formed The INC with old Sham drummer Rick Rock, the bass player in this band was Andy Prince who I would take with me a year later when I reformed Sham 69 in 1986.
How did you meet Stiv Bators? Tell me more about the Wanderers…
Early on Sham were out in Hollywood for a long weekend break and hooked up with Kim Fowley and his new girl group The Orchids (I still keep in touch with the guitarist Che Zuro to this day) his previous band was the Runaways. It was a mad weekend and at one point we ended up at a studio where Stiv was recording an album for Bomp Records, I ended up playing a bit of guitar on one track.
A year later Stiv got up on stage with us in New York to sing "If The Kids Are United".
The Wanderers had one album and two singles out. After that American tour when I ended up in hospital with hepatitis, when I got out Stiv and Dave had formed the Lords of the New Church with Brian James and they never even told me! However, I'm good friends with both Dave and Brian these days.
How/When and Why did you start Sham 69? How did you meet the other guys? What was the first line-up?
It must have been late 1975 when I first met Jimmy, he was playing the same local circuit as my band. Neither of us were really happy with our own bands and decided to get together and form Sham 69. Bands like Eddy and the Hotrods were just starting to be heard and we wanted to be part of this much more real hard hitting scene, as we formed the band the Sex Pistols emerged and our destiny was sealed.
The first line-up was Myself on guitar, Jimmy Pursey on vocals, Mark Cain on drums and from Jimmys old band Albert Maskell on bass - Albert was a lovely guy but unfortunately his bass playing just wasn't good enough, and so he was replaced by Dave Treganna who joined just in time to record our first album "Tell Us The Truth".
What was the UK scene like back when you started?
The scene had become very stagnant with bands becoming more and more detached from there audiences, this was why it was so refreshing when the Punk scene started - it was a reaction to the way things had become, seeing the Hotrods, Stranglers and Dr Feelgood playing at small clubs and pubs had suddenly put the magic back into rock.
Did you feel like you belonged? Or were you trying to do something else?
We were in our element, we were in the right place at the right time and it felt great. In London there was suddenly this great camaraderie between all the bands, everyone knew every one else and we were all going for it, in some ways it was like a great big family.
Did you like any band from the US scene?
We all liked the Stooges and Velvet Underground, but when we saw the Ramones at London's Roundhouse we were just knocked out, we were in heaven for an hour - I must say, the Ramones made a huge impression on me and the way that I wrote songs.
Do you remember your first show? How did you feel?
The first show we played as Sham 69 must have been at the Roxy club on Neil St, and the funny thing is, I don't remember being nervous at all, it was like playing to a bunch of friends. I suppose we were all like minded people on the same wave length, I remember Jimmy sweeping the club's floor after sound check so we could get a bit of money to get a hamburger - those days were really hand to mouth, we were just living on sheer adrenalin, like riding some never ending wave - great times.
What kind of success did Sham 69 reach?
We had something like seven top 10 hit singles and four top 10 albums, we were the biggest selling English punk band.
At CBGB in 2005. Thomaxe photo
How many albums did you guys record? Which ones are your personal favorites?
Up to the split in 1981 we recorded four albums: "Tell Us The Truth", "That's Life", "Hersham Boys" and "The Game". From the reformation in 1986 we put out "Volunteer", "Information Libre", "Soapy Water" and "Mr Marmalade" (I can't stand that title) "The A Files" and "Day 21". It's hard to say which are my favorites, different songs on different albums all for a 1000 different reasons; "Volunteer" was a strange album, at the time hip hop had just become really big and it was really hard for anyone to take us seriously - being a guitar band at that time was tough, although it's not a typical Sham album there are still some tracks that I like from it, I think we were just trying to find our feet again.
I know you recorded several albums in France, any special reason?
Our manager booked the studios, it may have had something to with him living most of the time in France - however they were great studios and it instilled in me a great love of France which I still have today. As I live on the south coast of England, it's only a hop across the Channel and I can get out there at least a couple of times a year.
The first studio we used out there was Le Chatteau in the north, this was where Elton John recorded "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", and we came in just after Richie Blackmore's Rainbow so there were upside down crosses all over the place. In the south we used a studio called Super Bear, when we arrived Pink Floyd had just finished recording The Wall, it was perched high up in the French Alps, so there were few distractions.
Do you like working in the studio?
Yeah I love it, but not for too long. I could never have been an engineer or full time producer, after a while I start to get cabin fever. I like the way we record now, we find a studio with the right sound and put down the drums, then we bring them back to my studio and put the rest of the stuff on there, it's a good way of working because we're not having to constantly watch the clock, we can put stuff down when we're really up for it, also I know exactly what’s going on all the time, what's achievable sound wise without having to rely or translate to some engineer what I want.
Can you tell me about your solo albums?
My first solo album was released in 1995, it was called "Reconcile", I've always been interested in different spiritual groups from Carlos Castaneda/Buddism/Magik/The Druids etc etc etc. At this point in my life I was involved with the Druids, part of my work involved the creation of a piece of art or similar with the purpose of coming to know one's self as we really are, therefore as a musician and writer I decided to record a solo album which dealt with events and people I've known throughout my life and how I dealt with those situations and people. In other words, trying to reconcile the past with the future. The period of writing and recording the album was both traumatic and enlightening. I'm still proud of the album and hope to get SOS Records to re-release it. I have my second solo album nearly finished but not the time to take it forward as all my energies are now focused with Sham.
Any favorite guitar/amp? What gear did you use back then? And now?
I've always been a Gibson/Marshall man, in the early days I had all types of Gibson but mainly used a mid '70s Les Paul Deluxe (which I still have to this day). Unfortunately years of playing this heavy beast have led to shoulder problems, so I now play a beautiful SG Standard which is about half the weight. I have used other guitars at different times, mainly when recording such as an '80s Fender Strat and a great Tockai Telecaster which I used for quite a bit of live work before finding the SG. I filed down the edges and back the same as a Stratt and fitted a Seymour Duncan humbucker to it (this guitar was used as the CD cover for "Information Libre"). Last year I had a sponsorship deal with Burns guitars, but sadly I was so unimpressed with them I returned the guitar, compared to the Gibson it just felt like a rough lump of wood.
Again with amps, I've used a variety for recording and live work, Fender twins, boogies etc. but always return to a Marshall 100w and a good old 4x12 cabinet - you just can't beat them.
Sham 69 finally made it back to the USA right before CBGB’s closed. How was it to play those two gigs?
Great! CBGBs was always the place to play, only small but the perfect punk gig, when we last played there it was summer and really hot, and the air conditioning broke down. I think I must have come off stage nearly a stone lighter.
I know you guys were banned from playing in the US for a very long time; may I ask why?
It was crazy, it was all to do with some minor juvenile offences, the British police said the record would be wiped clean once I was 17, so they weren’t admitted at the US Embassy. According to the US I should have admitted them, and so they refused us entry.
How do you feel about the Rock’n Roll scene in general these days?
It's a funny old scene; the one good thing is that it seems for the first time, a lot of different styles are able to co-exist together, a whole melting pot of different styles.
However there are two types of music that will never go away, one being reggae and the other Punk.
Where would you place Sham 69 in comparison to that scene?
To be honest it doesn't really concern me, what I enjoy doing is getting out and playing live, so as long as there's some people out there who want to see us, then we'll keep on coming - what else am I going to do, mow the lawn!
How would you describe Sham 69 and what your music stands for?
Sham 69 are a Punk band. Punk was never a fashion it was an attitude, it was for people who still had some individuality left, who were fed up being boxed or told what they should wear, what they should be listening to, which politics they should have. it was about getting up off of your back side and making something happen, doing it for yourself, thinking for yourself, These things for us haven’t changed, keep your eyes peeled and take off the blinkers.
What happened recently with Jimmy Pursey?
Sham 69 left Jimmy. Unfortunately Jimmy's ego went into outer space and he became impossible to work with. It was like working in a dictatorship. Also, he'd recently been toying with the idea of calling the band Jimmy Pursey and Sham 69, if anyone didn't agree with a decision he'd made, his answer would be: "If you don't like it, fuck off." Well we did, and now he's free to go off and be Jimmy Pursey. He didn't want to play more than four or five gigs a year anyway, whilst the band was dying to get out on the road, he was accepting tours, taking advance money which went into his own pocket and then cancelling shows at the last moment, letting down not only his band but the fans and promoters. There was no way I could let that continue. I hope he can now move on with his own life and I wish him all the best, for the first time in years I actually have some control over my own destiny.
What’s the new line-up?
Taking a new line-up out was always gonna be a nerveracking experience, but I shouldn't have worried. We've been headlining festivals all over Europe and going down a storm, people are so pleased to see us and hear the songs, they're not concerned that Jimmys not there, they know he wouldn't have come anyway, and if he had he would have forgotten all the words and mucked all the arrangements up (this isn't me bitching here, sadly it's a fact - Jimmy refused to rehearse with the band).
Jimmy Pursey on vocals in the heat at CBGBs. Thomaxe photo
We've got Scazz on vocals, he's been around on the Punk scene as long as I have, his best friend is the Godfather of Punk Mark P ("Sniffin Glue" magazine). He's a London Cockney, in fact he's fully qualified for the job. On bass is Rob (Zee) who's a bit younger than us. He's always been a massive punk fan and a great bass player. Ian Whitewood on drums needs no introduction, being the longest serving Sham drummer. He's been with the band since 1986. This is the best, tightest line up there has ever been of Sham.
We've gone back to our roots as a four-piece, playing loads of old stuff mixed with some great new songs. We also play a full set now, Jimmy would only play about 40 minutes top.
Sham recently came back to the USA, how did it go? Did you guys play other countries? What has been the response from the fans?
The tour was a great success, and in the whole tour we only had two people who moaned about Jimmy not being there. At the start of some gigs a few people were a bit apprehensive, but once we played we couldn't have had a better response. We also played Japan, Canada, Europe and Scandanavia, clocking up more gigs in one year than the last 10 put together.
Your new album is now available, can you tell me more about it?
In the States it's called "Hollywood Hero" and is available on SOS Records. In my opinion it's the best Sham album since the early days, a real return to roots album with plenty of energy and attitude.
If you could give any sort of advice to the kids who will read this interview, what would it be?
Be your own person, think for your self - don't follow leaders - have confidence, that's what it's all about.
Finally, what do you love the most about rock'n roll/punk rock?
The buzz from playing, travelling and meeting new people. What could be better?