The Boys are the great ‘should’ve beens’ of the punk era. At the beginning of 1977 they were the only British punk band with an LP record deal. However, they never achieved the success that they deserved and after four well received albums they decided to call it a day in 1982. They re-formed in 1999 and are still going strong today. Guitarist and vocalist Matt Dangerfield took some time out to tell me their story.
Brighton and Hove News: You were involved with the very beginnings of British punk. What do you remember of those days?
Matt Dangerfield: Well, lots really! (laughs). It was a very exciting time. It was a very small beginning. I remember seeing one of the early Sex Pistols gigs, and in the audience there were no more than fifteen to twenty people, and we all knew each other! The ‘scene’ really was that small. It was one of those cases of being in the right place at the right time. London at the time, if you were interested in that type of music, then that was the place to be. It was influenced by New York. I remember reading about the bands in New York. The NME (New Musical Express) used to have a columnist based in New York, and he was writing about all of these bands like the New York Dolls. We found it very interesting, without being able to actually hear the music. Most record shops at the time only stocked the top twenty. None of these bands we were reading about got played on the radio.
B&HN: You were initially a member of the London SS weren’t you?
MD: That’s right, yeah.
B&HN: Was that when Mick Jones (later of The Clash) was with them?
MD: I think Mick Jones was always there. Also Tony James (later of Generation X and Sigue Sigue Sputnik) was a member. When I was there, it was just those two and me. We did have a drummer, and we were looking for a singer. We listened to a few. We had a regular ad in Melody Maker, but nobody turned up who was any good. I was only with them for two, maybe three months.
B&HN: Then you formed The Boys.
MD: Yeah, cos one of the bands we knew about that were based in London were The Hollywood Brats. I’d heard their album and really liked it. So I knew about them, and so did Tony (James) and Mick (Jones). We contacted their singer Andrew (Matheson) and their keyboard player Cas (Casino Steel), and we invited them to come over and have a bit of a jam. After that they approached me and said that they didn’t want Mick or Tony but they wanted me. I thought about it for a day or two and decided to go with them, because they’d already made this brilliant record, they were a songwriting team and I liked their songs, so I thought joining them was the best plan.
B&HN: At The Boys’ first gig at the Hope & Anchor you drew some of the leading lights of the punk scene at the time. It would appear that you were clearly highly rated from the start. Is that right?
MD: Well, as I said earlier, everybody in the scene knew each other, so we were all interested in what each other was doing. We were kind of rivals, but in a friendly way. So we would go to each other’s gigs. As the scene got bigger so we all got busier – recording, touring. Then we stopped being in such close contact with each other because we were all too busy.
B&HN: At the beginning of 1977, The Boys were the only UK punk band with an LP record deal. How did that feel?
MD: That was great, but in a way we signed too early. We signed to NEMS. The reason we signed with them was because they were a very good live agency. We’d heard of them as a live agency, but not as a record company because they were tiny in that respect. At that time we’d only played a handful of gigs. Almost every gig we played, the manager of the venue told us that we were the worst band that’d ever darkened their doorstep; you know: “here’s yer money – f*ck off!!!” So we were running out of places to play. So we thought that at least with NEMS as a booking agency, they’d get us gigs!!! The problem was though, was that NEMS weren’t a very good record company. After we’d signed for them we were approached by lots of major record labels, and we’d have to tell them that we were already signed.
B&HN: Early in your career you toured supporting both John Cale and the Ramones. That must have been quite special?
MD: The John Cale tour was very early on. That must have been 1977. On that tour we were playing to audiences who’d mainly never seen a punk band before. That was really gratifying, because we were going down very well. When we started that tour it was a three band bill, and we were the first band on. But after a few gigs John Cale wanted to elevate us to being the second band on. And the band who had been the second band on weren’t very happy about that at all!
B&HN: That’s quite an accolade: John Cale viewing you in that light!
MD: Yes, and going down so well! At that time we had a policy of never playing encores. Our view was that if someone wanted to see more, they’d have to come and see us again. The first time we broke that rule was on the John Cale tour. We were playing Swansea, which is John Cale’s hometown, in this theatre – it was a bit like Spinal Tap where you have to walk miles underground to get to the stage! We’d gone offstage after playing our set, and about ten minutes later, John Cale’s manager came knocking on our door saying “can you do an encore?” We asked why, and he said that the crowd wouldn’t stop calling for us! John Cale was refusing to go onstage until we’d played an encore.
B&HN: You released Christmas records as The Yobs didn’t you? You didn’t lack a sense of humour!
MD: We always had a sense of humour, but instead of doing too much of that in our ‘normal’ work, we had fun with The Yobs instead. I’ve always been wary of trying to be funny. I mean, I loved The Small Faces. I think part of the reason that they weren’t so much bigger than they were, was because they had this overt sense of humour, which meant that people didn’t take them so seriously, like they did The Rolling Stones or The Who, who certainly took themselves seriously. I didn’t want that to happen to The Boys. Also, jokes generally are only funny once, whereas a good song or a good record will be listened to for decades.
B&HN: Why did the band split in 1982? Did you feel that you should have had greater commercial success?
MD: I think that by that time we’d realised that things had moved on in the music business. The days of the Specials, Madness, were upon us, and punk was no longer the leading light that it had been. Punk never died out, it went out of fashion and went underground to an extent. At the same time it was being picked up on all around the world. Internationally, the punk scene now is bigger than it was in the 1970’s.
And so it was that The Boys were seemingly no more. However, in 1999 they re-formed to play concerts in Japan. Unfortunately drummer Jack Black was unable to join them, and he was replaced by Steve “Vom” Ritchie.
B&HN: I’m going to take you forward a little way now. You brought out an album in 2014 called ‘Punk Rock Menopause’. Then in 2015, you visited China for a tour. You were advised on arrival that the Chinese Ministry of Culture had cancelled your tour, due to “crowd control issues”. Which really sounds like something out of the film Spinal Tap!
MD: We weren’t told on arrival. In fact we weren’t told at all to begin with! We were told at the first gig. We had a nine date tour. We were getting ready to go to the first gig, and the people from China who brought us over told us that the gig had been cancelled, because the Ministry of Culture wanted to inspect the venue, as they do from time to time. We initially thought that it was just bad luck. We had another gig the next day, and we heard on the morning of the gig that it had also been cancelled for the same reason. The people who brought us over (the promoters) then started ringing around all of the venues on the tour and got the same answer from them all: the venues were closed for inspection by the Ministry of Culture on the day we were due to play. When the promoters made some enquiries they were told by the Ministry of Culture that we were banned basically!
Just before we arrived in January, there had been a stampede at a New Year’s event in Shanghai, and I think forty people had been killed. While that was happening all of the dignitaries including the chief of police were having a big banquet. So subsequently there was a feeling that heads were going to roll, and somebody was going to be held responsible, so I think they were wary of any gathering of people that could get out of control. I guess the idea of a punk band worried them a bit!!!
B&HN: Yes I would imagine it would!!! You played some underground gigs didn’t you when you were over there?
MD: That’s right, yeah. The guys who brought us over did so at great risk I should add, because they were expats: British, American and Italian Asians. They were music fans basically. They organised the tour essentially by word of mouth, because you can’t do anything online in China. It all goes via the Chinese copy of Facebook, which is run by the Government. Anyway, we did about three or four gigs in the end.
B&HN: That must have been a fairly risky enterprise in itself wasn’t it?
MD: It was, yeah. It was very underground. We played in rehearsal rooms and recording studios, also cellars. They weren’t very big places. As one of the places was a recording studio, so we thought why don’t we record the gig?
B&HN: Yes, I saw that you have a live album recorded in China. So that was that particular gig?
MD: Yeah – the cheapest album we’ve ever made! I think it cost around £100 to record!
B&HN: You didn’t get any problems from the authorities, and all the gigs went ahead smoothly?
MD: In the end, although we didn’t manage to play the gigs that we’d initially had booked, we still got a lot out of the visit. One of the TV stations made a documentary about us. We made a couple of videos as well, live of course, so we didn’t come away empty handed.
B&HN: Is there likely to be a follow up to ‘Punk Rock Menopause’?
MD: There’s no plans for that, but we have actually started recording a few new songs, so we don’t know how that will develop. The days of the album are over. It’s all just tracks now. Music is too accessible these days. It’s too easy to get. It’s lost its value somewhat. When we used to go out and buy records it was a big thing. You’d come home with this record and play it fifteen or twenty times! Whereas now people just listen on their phone. On the other hand, vinyl sales are on the increase, so some young people are still interested in that physical quality. Mind you, some of them buy picture discs for example, and just put them on their wall!
B&HN: One thing that does strike me is that you have more original members in your band than many of the other punk era bands that are still active. That’s quite an achievement in itself isn’t it?
MD: It’s quite an achievement being still alive!!! (laughs) We’re all dropping like flies these days!!! We’re still in good health so we’re lucky in that respect – touch wood!!!
B&HN: You’ve got four gigs booked for next year, according to your website. Are you likely to have more, do you think?
MD: Yeah, there’s other things in the pipeline. Are you talking about the UK?
B&HN: Yes, the UK really.
MD: That’s a lot in the UK for us! As far as I know we’re playing Brighton (Lewes), we’re playing London. We’re doing the Rebellion Festival. There may be another two gigs possibly. We’re talking about that at the moment. We should do up north, or the Midlands. We don’t get there very often.
B&HN: Are there any further plans that might be of interest?
MD: There are the recording that I mentioned earlier. So there should be something for the people to listen to in the New Year. It all depends on when we find time to get together again.
B&HN: Are the band based in Germany? (Matt was in Germany when I spoke to him).
MD: Well, I live in Germany now. We all live in different countries. There’s only one of us living in London. Two live in Sweden, and one lives in Norway.
B&HN: Last-minute rehearsals off the cuff are a bit of a problem then?!!
MD: We haven’t rehearsed in twenty years!!!
Having seen some live clips of The Boys I can confirm that their apparent lack of rehearsal has no detrimental effect upon their performance. The Boys are living proof that nothing, not even the Chinese Ministry of Culture, can keep a good band down. The band play Lewes Con Club on 10th January, and London 100 Club on 11th January. They also play the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool between 6th and 9th August and HRH Punk II at the O2 Academy in Sheffield on 10th and 11th October.
The Boys current lineup:
Matt Dangerfield – guitar/vocals (1975-present)
Honest John Plain – guitar/vocals (1975-present)
Casino Steel – keyboards/vocals (1975-present)
Kent Norberg – bass/vocals (2014-present)
Martin H-Son – drums (2009-present)
Kid Reid – bass/vocals (1976-1981 & 1999-2011)
Jack Black – drums (1976-1981)
Vom Ritchie – drums (1999-2009)
Find out more about The Boys by visiting www.facebook.com/THEBOYSUK
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