St Vitus Dance formed in Belfast in the summer of 1981. After going through various line-up changes, the six-piece signed to Liverpudlian label Probe Plus, who released their 60's pop-influenced debut album, 'Love Me, Love My Dogma', in 1987.
The album was critically received, and the group moved to Liverpool later on that year, but poverty-stricken and having difficulty finding gigs broke up the following year.
Singer and guitarist Noel Burke went on to briefly front Echo and the Bunnymen, replacing Ian McCulloch who was on his ten year sabbatical from the band, and joining founding members, guitarist Will Sergeant and bassist Les Pattinson, in recording and touring their 1990 album, 'Reverbervation'.
St Vitus Dance reformed in 2005. As well as Burke, the current line-up of the band still features four of the personnel who recorded 'Love Me, Love My Dogma' -keyboardist Haydn Boyle, bassist Phil Freckleton, drummer Peter Hesketh and guitarist/mandolin player Damein Magee -and also lead guitarist Kevin O' Neill, who played an early line-up of the band before it moved from Belfast.
21 years on from its debut, St Vitus Dance is about to release again on Probe Plus its second album, 'Glypotheque'.
Pennyblackmusic spoke to Noel Burke about the new album.
PB : St Vitus Dance formed in Belfast. Are you all still based there these days, or are you now all in Liverpool ?
NB : We all moved to Liverpool in 1987, but after the band drifted apart at the end of 1988, Damien and Pete returned to Belfast, leaving Phil, Haydn and myself on Merseyside. That’s still the situation now. Kevin, who had been in an early incarnation of the band and plays guitar in the band now, also lives in Belfast.
PB : Is it true that 'Love Me, Love My Dogma 'took 6 years to write and and record, but in the end was recorded very quickly ? Why did it take so long to make ?
NB : I suppose it is, although the thing about St. Vitus Dance before 1986 was that the line up was as stable as a drunk at chucking out time – actually the same could be said of the individuals involved at the time. For a long time we didn’t take it very seriously – we only ended up on Probe because Maurice, the bass player at the time went to Liverpool to visit his sister and dropped a tape off with Geoff Davies. I don’t think we’d approached any labels, indie or major, prior to that.
'Dogma' cost £360 to record, although mixing it in Liverpool might have cost another hundred or so. Of the songs on the album, only one or two dated from the earliest band line up. Most of them were written in 1986 and 1987.
PB : It seems to me to be a very different listening experience to the new album, 'Glypotheque'. How does the band compare the two albums ?
NB : Well, we’ve certainly slowed down a bit…I suppose it’s to be expected at our age. The keyboards aren’t as prominent as they used to be and Kev’s guitar playing is a real feature – there’s probably more of a folk-pop element to it now as well – we decided at the outset that we’d go for an acoustic feel, for this album anyway. There’s also a bit more space on this album – on 'Dogma' we just bunged every instrument on we had to hand – Geoff managed to pare it down a tad on the mix, but it was still a bit of a kitchen sink job.
PB : Has the band's outlook on life changed in the intervening period between the two albums ?
NB : The we were hedonistic, brash, confident, hopeful and ultimately stupid.
Now we are still stupid enough to want to keep making records, but at least we’re realistic in our expectations this time.
PB : Where or how did you come up with both album titles and what do they mean to the band ?
NB : 'Love Me Love My Dogma' was a steal from that terrible song, 'Love Me Love My Dog' by Peter Shelley (not the Buzzcocks One) which was in the charts some time in the 70's. Being from Northern Ireland, a part of the world which specialised in small differences of opinion on the subject of religion, it seemed like an appropriate title.
As for 'Glypotheque'…in Belfast terminology “glype” (or glipe) is a well known term for an idiot. Many years ago I went inter-railing around Europe with a few mates from Belfast. We were in Munich, I think it was, and came across a poster or street sign for “Glyptothek” (I think it means sculpture museum). One of our company read it as Glypotheque and went on to speculate as to what kind of dance club it might be, what clientele it attracted and so on. (It was funny at the time). Around the time the idea for getting together to record a second album was mooted I came across the word again in a book and when someone in the band asked me what I intended calling the album the word Glypotheque just kind of popped out – it’s not even a real word – perhaps it’s a club where all the celebrity obsessed, surgically enhanced fame seekers I’ve mentioned in some of the the lyrics hang out.
PB : Why have you brought out a second album and why now after all these years ?
NB : We’ve kept in close touch since the band split up at the end of 1988 – I saw Phil and Haydn pretty regularly in Liverpool and would always meet up with the Belfast contingent any time I was over there, which was fairly frequently.
For most of the 90's Pete, the drummer had been on my case to do something, to start writing again, but for one reason or another I wasn’t keen. In 2005 Pete and Kevin were due to play with Bid from Scarlet’s Well and the Monochrome Set as part of his backing band at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast.
The organizers then asked if St. Vitus Dance would be interested in playing on the same bill. Well, we did it and the rehearsals and the gig went really well – the audience response was very positive and, more to the point at this stage of our lives, we enjoyed it for its own sake. Next thing you know I’ve started writing new material and Geoff seemed amenable as regards putting it out so we decided to keep going.
PB : Are you planning any gigs to promote the album ?
NB : Yes, we’ve already done a sneak preview gig in Belfast in December just gone but we’ll be playing another one in Belfast in late April or early May, with a Liverpool gig happening around the same time – nothing definite yet, but it will happen.
PB : How quick was it to write and record the new album in comparison to the last album ?
NB : It took us ages to write the first couple of songs, but after that the floodgates opened and songs came fairly quickly. This time around they took a long time to get down on tape, purely down to the difficulty of getting everybody together to rehearse and record. I think it took around a year to get everything recorded and mixed. We got there in the end, though.
PB : You fronted Echo and the Bunnymen for a while. Did you enjoy the experience? Was it hard to fit into Ian McCulloch's shoes ? I thought at the time that you made them a better band for your presence.
NB : I did enjoy it, despite the fact that it was a doomed enterprise from the very outset. In fact I think the reason I did enjoy it was because I accepted that it was doomed right from the start and I just concentrated on trying to put together as decent a record as possible.
Considering Ian McCullough’s profile within the band it was insane keeping the name of the band but having said that I could understand the strength of the others’ feelings at the time. Unfortunately what was intended as a symbol of defiance was interpreted by practically everyone as a cynical attempt to make a quick buck. A change of name would have made my job especially a lot easier but at that time there was no way that was going to happen.
Once I’d accepted that I just did the best I could while always expecting the worst reaction – it certainly softened the blows when they came – I didn’t take it nearly so hard as the rest – mind you they’d been used to a bit of success.
PB : There was just the one album. Is there any unreleased Echo and the Bunnymen material from that period ?
NB : Not much, one or two out-takes from the album and a few songs we were playing live in the States towards the end which may exist on a few live tapes – I remember thinking they were quite good songs at the time but I haven’t listened to any of that stuff in years.
PB : How much say did you have within the group and do you still keep in touch with Will Sergeant and Les Pattinson ?
NB : From the very start it was pretty democratic – it became clear pretty quickly that they wanted someone who could provide some kind of input musically and lyrically. The album was a real collaborative effort, with everybody, including Jake Brockman and Damon Reece who played keyboards and drums contributing loads to the overall feel of the record. There was a real meeting of minds in that we all wanted to make this trippy psychedelic pop album – and I think we did a pretty good job (Adam Peters from the Triffids played a blinder on the cello). In the end though the music was always going to be a secondary concern, but I’m over it, you know.
I still see Will occasionally – he’s the same gentleman he ever was – but I don’t think I’ve seen Les since I got married, which was a dozen years ago – a pity because we all got along famously despite the fact that our careers were going to hell in a handcart.
PB : Do St Vitus Dance have any plans to tour when 'Glypotheque' is released ?
NB : I think it’s highly unlikely that we’ll be able to do much more than selective gigs every now and again – of course if some promoter wants to offer us silly money to tour we’re open to offers…
PB : Do you have any plans to record any more records ?
NB : Well, there’s a whole new bunch of songs in the pipeline and we all love the process of rehearsing and recording, even though it takes a long time – so we’d love to but we’ll have to wait and see how many copies we can shift of this one.
PB : Thanks for your time.
'Glypotheque' will be released on April 7th.