BMX Bandits are an indie guitar pop band who come from Bellshill, which is just outside of Glasgow.
The group was formed in 1985 by its front man and sole original member Duglas T. Stewart, and has now released ten albums. Other notable members that have passed through its membership include Norman Blake and Francis MacDonald from Teenage Fanclub; Sean Dickson, Sushil Dade and Jim McCulloch from the Soup Dragons and Eugene Kelly from the Vaselines.
The band have recently been the subject of a documentary, ‘Serious Drugs – Duglas and the Music of BMX Bandits’, which has been directed by Scottish film director Jim Burns, and tells of their story from first forming in 1985 and signing shortly afterwards to Stephen Pastel’s 53rd & 3rd Records until now.
Pennyblackmusic met up with Duglas T. Stewart at the Leicester Indiepop All-Dayer at which 'Serious Drugs-Duglas and the Music of BMX Bandits’ was being shown, and, in this two part interview, spoke to him about BMX Bandits’ lengthy career.
PB: You were born in 1964. As a youngster growing up, was there a lot of music played in your household, and were you aware of music of the 1960s and 1970s?
DTS: There wasn't a lot of music played in my house. My parents weren't part of the rock and roll generation. The music that they did play wasn't rock, It came from ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘The Wizard of Oz’, and Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. That music probably had an influence on me.
I was never convinced that I was a rock star, or had a desire to be a rock star. It doesn't mean that I don't want to be famous. I just don't understand the big-headed macho rock star thing.
PB: When punk came along in 1976 and 1977, did that change the landscape for you?
DTS: It did. I had my own version of what it did for me. It wasn't about destroying things. It was about following your own path, so people like Jonathan Richman were a bigger influence on me than the Sex Pistols who didn't really mean much to me.
I liked as well DIY bands like the Television Personalities. Bands like that that connected with me because they did the sort of stuff that I could do with my friends. There was a bunch of us in my town with the same dreams.
PB: Bellshill where you came from was also where Teenage Fanclub and the Soup Dragons came from. Did it have a decent musical community?
DTS: It did. It was a time though when everyone was greeted with suspicion, and pretty much everyone who was so-called normal thought we were weirdos. It was a small thing, but we used to view each other songs, and we got strength through it in the same way that Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma used to watch each other’s films to gain strength through it.
PB: I believe that the first band that you were in was the Pretty Flowers. Is that correct?
DTS: Yes. I'm a very romantic person. I'm the sort of person that likes people to like my favourite music and favourite films, and I met Frances McKee, who went onto form the Vaselines, and I fell for her, and one day she wanted to form a group, so we started a band.
But, if I remember correctly, I didn't play an instrument. I think I was having guitar lessons at the time, and I couldn't play. I was awful, but I said, “I can do this.” Ever since I was a kid and about seven or eight, I had written songs. My teacher used to be like, ”This is Duglas, and he is going to sing some songs for us.” And I happened to know Norman Blake and Sean Dickson, whom were both very musical, and I said to Frances, “We can form a group with them”, and so that was how that came about
PB: Did you release anything?
DTS: No, we did some demos, some eight tracks and that was all, but we did play live a lot in Bellshill and in Glasgow. We got it touch with some labels, whom seemed pretty interested in doing something with us, and then Frances dropped a bombshell, that she had fallen in love with Eugene and she was going to form a group with him. I was gutted as she was the group.
By this time Norman didn't know that he wanted to make music anymore because stuff hadn't gone as planned, and Sean had formed the Soup Dragons, so I formed a new band, BMX Bandits. We were rejected by a label and felt sad, which is always a good inspiration to write songs. Then after Frances and Eugene split up, Eugene joined BMX Bandits.
PB: BMX Bandits were formed in 1985. At that time Primal Scream were coming through, and Alan McGee had Creation Records. Were you aware of those at the time?
DTS: Yeah, we were sort of friends. We started going to a club called Splash#1, which was named after a 13th Floor Elevators song title, and was in Glasgow. With the first one, there was about forty of us there. You went to that club because you were outsiders. You went there and they played something mainstream, and then maybe an Iggy Pop track such as ‘The Passenger’ or an Echo and the Bunnymen track. It might not be your kind of thing, but you got up and danced to it anyhow because it was the only non-mainstream thing.
This would later be a club that would play Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd, the 13th Floor Elevators, the Velvet Underground and a lot of contemporary stuff that we liked like Sonic Youth, but it would also play Madonna. It would also show films on the walls, and so I got to know people there like Stephen Pastel and Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream.
We used to hang out together, and we would play football on a Sunday. I had no interest in football and I never got chosen. I was useless but funnily enough Stephen was a star player and very good, Stephen's grandfather was a professional, so maybe it was in the genes.
We got to know each other, listened to each other's record collections, and Bobby and I used to be on the phone to each other every two days saying, “Have you heard this?”
Splash#1 went from that to queues around the block as the whole Creation thing also grew. Lots of people were trying to get into it, and it was eventually killed by its own success.
PB: Stephen released the BMX Bandits’ first record. ‘E102’, through his label 53rd and 3rd, didn’t he? Did he have the Pastels at that stage?
DTS: Yes, he did.
PB: He worked in a record shop, didn't he?
DTS: I think he was still at university when he I met him, and he then worked in libraries, and then he worked in record shops. He worked in a really cool record shop, where you got Postcard Records from. Norman and I used to walk to Glasgow from Bellshill - That's twelve miles each way –just to go to it.
I sent out a lot of demos of BMX Bandits. I sent out a demo to Dan Treacy from the Television Personalities, and one to Jonathan Richman. I just sent them to people. I liked wondering if they would get it. Even if they didn't listen to it, I could imagine they had. I gave one to Stephen. I was surprised when Stephen said that he would like to put a record out.
Stephen and David Keegan from the Shop Assistants had started 53rd and 3rd. I think apart from the Shop Assistants we were the first signings. Well, nobody actually signed anything, but we were the second band to release on anything on it. Tallulah Gosh were on there too, and the Vaselines. So were the Boy Hairdressers and Beat Happening.
It was like Stephen took the battle in Glasgow. You had all these guys in thick moustaches or that looked like Jim Morrison that wanted to kill us for wearing flowery shirts. In the early days Orange Juice and the Pastels and BMX Bandits, we all got glasses thrown at us at gigs. We all had to be escorted to and from the dressing room. It's a tough town, and a lot of venues had to sneak us in and out of the back because these guys wanted to kill us. If you were a BMX Bandit, you were totally ridiculed by everybody.