Melody Maker - December 16 1978


"If somebody doesn't have any limitations, they suffer for it. Like me.
I'm a sort of Leonardo da Vinci of the rock business."
Bitter and twisted Chris Spedding tells it like it ought to be.

by Allan Jones (photo by Barry Plummer)

CHRIS Spedding's defection last August to New York, where he has recently recorded an album with Robert Gordon (having replaced Link Wray in the singer's musical affection), passed virtually without comment in the columns of the rock comics

And his return, this month, has similarly failed to spark any considerable interest in his present activities. He will be here only briefly, he promises: he is back just to tie up various outstanding business commitments and to supervise the completion of a new solo album for RAK.
He will return to New York before Christmas, to prepare for a tour of the U.S. in the new year with Gordon.
Spedding's decision to quit Britain for America was provoked, he says, by an increasing disenchanntment with the lack of esteem in which he was held in this country, and by his growing frustration with his continued lack of commercial success.
"I couldn't even get arrested in England," he says dispassionately. "I'd put out records and they wouldn't even get reviewed, let alone played on the radio. So I thought, 'I'm not having any more of this. I'm off. If I'd have stayed here it would have been complete artistic death for me. A complete waste of time, you know.
There were two principal considerations which contributed at the time to his determination to move to America in an attempt to revive his carrer. There was the conspicuous failure of his last single, "Bored, Bored," and financially disastrous situation into which he was plunged by the British tour upon which he embarked to promote his last album, "Hurt."

"When 'Bored, bored' came out and was received with a grand outburst of indifference, I knew there was something wrong. I wasn't going to strat blaming the world at large, 'cos that's like the beginning of the end when you start thinking the whole world is wrong and you're right. I knew that as far as my own solo career was concerned I was a failure. It was as simple as that. I had one hit with 'Motorbikin'.' After that, nothing. 'Hurt' wasn't a hit. Did you see it in the charts? No ... I was satisfied with it as a record, as much as you can be satisfied with anything you can do ... But I can't be objective about its aristic success. I can only be objective about how much money I earn. I can't tell whether my records are anygood, you know. I can only do my best. But I assumed that people didn't like my records 'cos the sales were poor. And if a record doesn't get into the top 30, then I consider it a failure. I don't make any distinction between artistic and commercial failure. I think they're both the same. I can't say something is a great artistic achievement if it only sold one copy. The whole definition of art is to communicate to the populace at large. And if you've only communicated to one person then you're a miserable failure. That one person might think that the sun shines out of your arse, but you're still a miserable failure."
The extent of his apparent failure to successfully establish himself as a solo star was brutally emphasised last November when he mounted an elaborate tour to promote "Hurt."
"I'm still paying for that tour," he says. "In fact, I'll be paying for it for several more years. The album cost 15,000 to produce, and the tour lost twice as much as that. the tour lost 30 grand. All of which has to be paid for by little old me. I went into that tour like most people would've - thinking I was going to come out a big star with hit records, you know. And when that doesn't happen, it's bankruptcy time.
"That's the problem with being a solo artist. If I'd have been in a band the loss would have been shared, you see. But being solo artist, with a backing band of hiredmusicians, I had to pay for it all. And I couldn't really skimp on a tour like that. I needed good musicians, a good sound crew, a good lighting man ... and all that's expensive. And that tour got me into a hell of a hole, financially, which I'm still within years of digging myself out.
"That's why I don't have a band now. I simply can't afford another band."

SPEDDING is reluctant to analyse the failure of his bid to secure commercial success as a solo performer, but agrees that it might beattributed to the confused image has often presented to the public. He thinks that many wish he would concentrate simply upon promoting himself as a guitar hero, a concept he loathes entirely.
"I don't," he reasons, "like people expecting me to play that role. I don't want them to want me to be Robin Trower. I'm not capable of being that crass. All I've ever done on my own records is play pop songs. I'm sure I could've been more successful if I'd conformed to the public's idea of a guitar hero. But there are already too many people - most of them bloody millionaires - who are making music for entirely the wrong reasons. But I really don't want to get into that guitar hero vibe. It's totally self-indulgent and boring. But there does seem to be a certain style of music in which the musicans are aloowed to be self-indulgent, and they sell millions of records. Maybe I should be a total bore. At Least I'd sell some bloody records.

"But I'm not prepared to do it., and therefore I confuse people. I know people have listened to my records and said, 'Look - this guy is a really talented guitarist. Why is he selling himself short by playing such rubbish?' The thing is that often these things I've done have been like musical jokes. And if people can't see them as such, then I've really got terrible problems, 'cos I really am being totally misunderstood.
"People expect me to be boring and self-indulgent, and I'm not. I simply try to be entertaining on numerous levels. I try to be entertaining on a superficial level, on a disposable pop level, and then there's supposed to be a deeper, dry kind of irony running through these things I do. People never pick up on that. like, I remember when 'The Only Lick I Know' came out. At the time I was appearing in Melody Maker jazz polls. John McLaughlin always used to win it, and I always used to come second. That jazz audience was my audience at the time. So when that album came out they were all sitting about looking horrible."

HIS new album, he says, finds him pandering to a certain extent to the demands of his audience: the second side is largely a selection of guitar solos, edited from the tapes of the "Hurt" tour - "they're not even complete songs - just solos snipped from different songs and spliced together" - which climaxes with a furious live version of "Breakout," a number originally recorded, but never released by Sharks. The first side, he feels, is more typical: a collection of characteristically idiosyncratic songs - "Midnight Boys" and "Walking With The King" were the most immediately outstanding from a single preview.

He still feels a definite hunger to be accepted for his own music, despite the recent disappointments he's suffered. The acclaim he's enjoyed for his contributions in recent years to albums by Roy Harper and John Cale is simply not enough. "That's no satsfaction at all," he says. "There's no sense of personal achievement in helping somebody else into to the chart or helping them get something of their own over to the public. Those records have said nothing about me. Most of them I can't even identify with. Cale is more or less a kindred spirit. He's a maverick, like myself. but Roy Harper, you know, stood for everything I'm more or less diamatrically opposed to. when he was up there giving out those long raps, I was usually to be found behind my amp stack shouting, 'Speak for yourself, Roy.' I couldn't possibly have endorsed what he was saying.
"I can only endorse my own success. The only things I want to endorse are those albums that have my name on them in big type. Not the ones that have somebody else's name in big type and mine in smaller type.
"But, you know, I still confuse people. That's what it comes down to. I don't have a specific image. You see, people make their Limitations into an image. And if somebody doesn't have any limitations they suffer for it. Like me. I'm a sort of Leonardo da vinci of the rock business. I'm sure Leonardo da Vinci would've understood me ..."

LEONARDO being rather indisposed presently through death, Spedding is being consoled by an American audience who approach work without preconceptions ("I told them I played on the Wombles' records and it only added to the old mystique," he laughs).

They are further intrigued by his early association with Blighty punk, most notable his connections with the Sex Pistols. It's a little bit of history that's previously been unrecorded in these pages. You will remember, though, that he produced the first Sex Pistols sessions. He had been attracted to them by their attitude and the critical slagging they originally received.
"I thought there was a lot of injustice being done to them. Musicians are really the worst bigots, and everyone originally dismissed them for being out of time and out of tune. And that was absolute rubbish. They weren't."
Malcolm McLaren realised, Spedding argues, the value of using him as an ally - "he was cultivating me 'cos he needed my credibility. They were using me, I suppose, but I was pleased to help. I was the only person from the music establishment to champion them. McLaren even wanted me to do the Anarchy In The UK tour with them. The only reason I didn't is that I wanted to headline. They wanted me to do it with the Vibrators. I said, 'Sure - I'll do it, but as the only person with a chart single I want to headline.' They said no, so I said 'Fuck it. Fair enough. I'll go me own way ...'"
He did produce three demos for McLaren, before the relationship was severed. He took the Pistols into a cheap studio in Clapham - "all they could afford" - and supervised the recording of "Pretty Vacant," "No Feelings" and "Problems."
"I got three titles out of that session, overdubbed and mixed in five hours. And I still think the version I did with them of 'Pretty Vacant' is better than one that was a chart hit. They did exactly what I wanted and they were totally responsive. Rotten sang live on every cut. Just stood there and did what he was told. No moody poses. Just did it.

"I knew what would happen, though. Every group is ashamed of their first foray into the studio and they always blame the poor old producer. The next thing I knew after we did those sessions was the whole group coming round my house with the first Ramones album. And they said, 'We think it's a load of shit what you've done - listen to this.' So they put it on and I just laughed. And I said 'Just turn that fucking shit off. You're ten times better than that.' And they actually had to agree with me when I played their demos. And off they went. And that was the last I heard from them.
"I didn't care. I can't stand all that farting about. I'm not going to waste my time fucking about with people who don't know what I'm doing."
I remind him of the rumour which circulated at the time the Chris Thomas-produced version of "Anarchy" was released, which suggested that he, not Steve Jones, played on the cut.
"That's another famous McLaren rumour," he laughs. "And another example of the kind of bigotry I mentioned earlier. Some people were so convinced that the Pistols were a by-word for all kinds of shit and duffness that they simply wouldn't believe that they could play. Even when the record came out and it was good. They had to make excuses. They said it must be me, 'cos everyone knows the Pistols are shit. I was annoyed by the rumour, but it must have annoyed Steve Jones even more. I think we should start a rumour that Steve Jones played on all the Wombles' records, actually ..."

SPEDDING'S future, as far as he can see it, will most certainly be in America. His new album, he hopes, will be the first of his solo projects to be released there, and if it is he will probably tour to promote it.
"You see," he explains, "I'm a solo artist by default. I don't actually like it. I'd prefer to be a member of a band. But I'm a musical idealist, and it's difficult to find the right people to work with. I thought I'd found them with Sharks. After two years I realised it wasn't going to get any better, had to swallow it and we split. I still think of Snips as one of my great musical buddies, but I couldn't go back in history and form an band again with him. But I'm still trying to find some guys to work with. I hang around at Max's and at CBGB's, looking for musicians. In the meantime, I suppose, I'll carry on making these records under my own name ... But really, I'd happier if I could find some people to collaborate with."

I ask him if, off the top of his head, he could identify his ideal line-up for a group.
"Well - Free have always been my favorite band in a way. I still admire Andy Fraser and I still like Simon Kirke's drumming. That wouldn't be a bad rhythm section. And John Lennon would be good. He hasn't done anything for years. It would get him out of the house, shake him up a bit. That would be a good band, wouldn't it. Me, John Lennon, Andy Fraser and Simon Kirke. Yeah. I think we should leave it at that.

Spedding In The Papers