As the editor of a hugely prestigious magazine devoted to the era and scene that spawned the Downliners Sect, I would love to tell you that I have been a fan of the group from the very beginning, but that would be a lie. I became aware of the band because Billy Childish was so enamored of them that he did some recordings with them in the early '90s and helped bring them back into the public spotlight. In fact, it was so late in the game when I started listening to the Sect that I wasn't even sure at first if these weren't some fresh faced kids trying to steal Billy's thunder by performing songs that sounded like his and even sporting a headcoat on their record covers just like my hero. I know better now. When Russell Garrett contacted me about doing an interview with the band at the Las Vegas Rockaround, I agreed it would be a delight and an honor. Time is a funny thing; even though I discovered the Downliners Sect twenty five years after the fact, it's been fifteen years now that I've been grooving to their driving rhythm and blues and the boys are still generating more excitement than many musicians young enough to be their grandkids. Although I have picked up most of the material the lads recorded when they were hobnobbing with and competing for teen record buyers' hard earned pounds with the likes of the Stones and Yardbirds, my current favorite is the live album, "Burning Snow," which was recorded in Sweden in 2000. I wish I had heard it before the Rockaround, but you can't have everything. If you are wondering whether you need to track down this live document and bring it into your life, the answer is a resounding yes! You won't be disappointed. The CD version includes two new Downliners Sect songs that are worth the price of admission alone. 'Burning Snow' is available ONLY via WWW.YARDBIRDS.US Thanks Russ!!!
I hooked up with Russ on the first day of the Rockaround and we spent a good hour wandering around the Gold Coast before we ran into the band and made arrangements to do the interview. Russ, the Sect, their traveling companion Eddie and I found a relatively quiet bar (there are several) and I turned on the tape. Those chaps who weren't being quizzed about the past, present and future talked quietly among themselves. I enjoyed talking to all of the band members and am grateful that Keith made sure I gave everyone a fair shake instead of letting me ramble on endlessly with him and Don. When I got to the end of the tape, I announced that I had to get back to my room to see how my girlfriend was doing. Everyone at the table stopped what they were doing and looked at me as if I were the first nine foot tall blue person with a foot growing out of his chest that they had ever seen. Someone said, "You have a girlfriend?!" I can only guess that they were all either half a world away from their significant others, brain addled by jet lag, confirmed bachelors, actual grandparents and/or utterly surprised that a middle aged fan boy who found them exciting subjects could hold down a steady gal. The moment passed, we shook hands and went our separate ways. I saw Russ, Eddie, Alan, Keith, Paul, Don and Del from time to time over the weekend and we always gave each other the high sign or exchanged some idle chatter. The Downliners Sect's set was one of the only ones that Julia and I witnessed in its entirety. The band was so inspiring I was close to tears for the entire time they had the stage. If you were there, you know what I'm talking about.
But you didn't click on this link to read my mindless chatter about things like the weather and the price of china in Tennessee so put on your favorite headcoat, adjust the flaps for optimal monitor viewing, select some background music with appropriately secty lyrics and dig in.
Edwin: Why don't we start with the new album?
What's it called?
Don: It's called "Burning Snow," recorded live in Sweden in 2000 when we were touring there. We recorded it on the last night for Radio Gavleborg.
Edwin: Is that the 10-inch?
Don: The CD version. The 10-inch version came out only in Spain. This is the US CD version.
Russ: It's got the full concert. It's got four tracks that are not on the vinyl and it's also got two bonus studio tracks, "Eel Pie Memories," which Don wrote and "Love Without Strings," which Keith wrote.
Edwin: Are you doing all of the songs from that?
Don: No, we've been doing some of them, but we're going to introduce a few from the '60s that we haven't done in a long time.
Don: People want to hear them.
Keith: Yeah, we're going to do "Glendora," which a lot of people like. We're doing one that we rarely do; it's one that Don sings called "Insecticide."
*** We had just settled into our discussion when the subject of adult beverages came up. This was Vegas, of course. As I recall, Don had a coke and Keith had something like Red Bull, which was about as heavy duty a drink as I saw at the table.
Edwin: One question I have is: Why did you guys change your names? Was it just a lark?
Keith: Well, everybody did it at that time, in the '60s.
Don: As far as I was concerned, my real name is Mick O'Donnell and everyone called me Don at school anyway.
Edwin: So you were already Don anyway.
Don: Right. And the Craine was a little river that ran near my house.
Keith: I didn't actually change my name; I just stuck a Grant on it to confuse the Inland Revenue. That's why a lot of people get confused, because on a lot of our old records it says Evans/O'Donnell as writing and then you see Grant and Craine. A lot of people would say, "Who's Evans and O'Donnell?" Even Terry, our old lead guitarist, instead of being Clemson, he changed his name to what did he change his name to?
Keith: Fucking, whatever. People wondered who these people were that were writing songs for us, but it was really ourselves.
Edwin: Yeah, I went through that too. I looked at the names, figured it had to be you guys, but the names didn't match
Keith: The only rogue in there was Collier who was our A & R man. A lot of the traditional stuff that we arranged, he stuck his name on 'em. On a lot of those songs, he never really had much to do with it apart from twiddling a few knobs very badly.
Edwin: Was that ever an issue, the royalty rights?
Keith: It is now.
Don: But it wasn't then; we were kids, we didn't know what was happening.
Edwin: Does he actually still have rights to some of the music?
Don: He claims to have the rights to all of our '60s stuff that came out on Columbia Records. All our three albums from the '60s are out again now all over the world and his name's still there. He's licensing the stuff out and he never really owned it.
Edwin: Well, your names are on the songs
Don: Yeah, we get the songwriting royalties
Edwin: But not the publishing?
Keith: Yeah, we get that, but we haven't seen any recording royalties for 30 years from that kind of stuff.
Don: Still. It's good publicity they keep telling us.
Edwin: What about stuff like he's got the rights to those three albums
Don: And the singles.
Edwin: what about the actual material? Like the compilation, "Sectuality"? Does he get that too?
Don: If his name's on the songs then he gets it.
Keith: He gets a certain share of the songs. He doesn't get all the songs. We have our separate contracts.
Edwin: How many songs are you doing now that you've written within the last ten years?
Don: We're not doing so many now. We probably do two, maybe three a set. If we did all new stuff people would be disappointed for some reason. If you put it in with the old stuff then they give it a listen.
Edwin: Are you happier with the new stuff or are you just as happy doing the old stuff? especially your own songs.
Keith: It changes with the territory. When we go to Sweden, because we had various top ten hits there, with Derrick and Al and Paul, the concept changes somewhat. In Sweden, for instance, they like to hear quite a few of our Country Sect songs.
Don: Yeah, "I Got Mine" was a hit there.
Keith: Now it comes across. It's a lot more powerful than it was in those days. It's a whole different ball game. We have to play stuff like that for those kinds of territories. When we do festivals for mods and what have you, they want to hear a lot of our old material anyway.
Don: But the arrangements change over the years. When you learn to play your instrument, the songs actually sound good.
Keith: All of us in the Downliners, as it is I mean Paul's been with us for like 35 years, with Al and Del it's been 20 years and we were all mates in the '60s anyway. The concept kinda changes a bit in the way the thing comes off and evolves.
Edwin: You guys did the Show Biz album when the styles had changed and it would have been ridiculous for you guys to be doing the same old music, but now it makes all kinds of sense to be playing the old style of music. I would say there are probably as many new bands doing that kind of music that are popular now as there were back then.
Don: That's right. They're good songs if you've got powerful music behind them. We don't reproduce the '60s sound exactly; there's no point. Like in the 60s, we didn't reproduce Jimmy Reed's sound; we did his songs. By the time we had done something to them they were very different.
Edwin: Let me ask you about the Country Sect album. Was that your concept or management?
Don: It wasn't our concept, but I went along with it and, to some extent, Keith did. On that project we were trying to begin to try to break down what British rhythm and blues was all about. We decided there was a little bit of country blues, a little bit of rock and roll and a little bit of country in there. We did the Rock Sects in to be a mainly rock album and the first album was more bluesy r&b. This one was country orientated to show that people like Hank Williams, etc. had actually contributed to the birth of r&b.
Keith: And Lonnie Donegan as well.
Edwin: I was going to ask if that record was sort of looking back to the skiffle days.
Don: That's exactly what it was. It was because of Lonnie Donegan and people like that that we got into the business in the first place. Before Donegan you actually had to be a musician. After that you could use the three-chord trick and the skiffle and everybody loved it. It was better than learning a trade or a profession.
Edwin: Do you still do some of the country songs?
Don: Like Keith says, we mainly do them in Scandinavia. We don't do many of them apart from that. We never did. We recorded the album, but we never did it on stage.
Edwin: Was there a point where you guys were surprised to be popular again? When you realized a lot of people wanted to hear you playing the old style music?
Don: Oh yeah. It was the mid 70s when it all started again. We started out with a thing in New Musical Express, a "Quiz for Ancient Groupies" it said. "Who are these guys?" and a picture of us. From then on we were back in business.
Keith: The great thing is that the second wave, the third wave and probably now the fourth wave of mods now use the term freakbeat to describe us and you probably know more about it than we do.
Edwin: Yeah, that's an odd one. You didn't use the term freakbeat back in the '60s.
Don: No, we didn't. We just called it r&b.
Edwin: Or just music.
Keith: Exactly. I always termed it as British r&b because it seems to have got almost forgotten, that style. Now, what they call r&b is something I don't really know. It has no connection with rhythm and blues of any description I've ever known.
Don: In America it always meant black music, but it didn't mean that in England; it was more the style of music. Now the style of r&b means a totally different style and they've got discos and that too.
(Go to part two for the conclusion of this interview.)