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“My initial love was for classic late 60’s/early 70’s music and then later on I got into a lot of 90’s alternative American stuff, “ says Simon Berridge. “You imitate what you love, don’t you? And I suppose what I do is marry those two things together because they are my main musical loves.”
Berridge is sitting in the driver’s seat of his beautifully preserved thirty-two year old Ford Capri, which comes complete with its original cassette deck, and is talking to Pennyblackmusic about his band Bromide’s new album, ‘I Remember’.
The veterans of five albums, Bromide, which the Harrow-educated Berridge first formed in the mid-1990s, have always been just under the musical radar. Starting out as a Husker Du, Only Ones and Sonic Youth-obsessed lo-fi indie pop outfit, centred around vocalist/guitarist Berridge and whoever he could get to perform and record with him, Bromide released their debut album, ‘Iscariot Heart’ in 1997. They became a three piece, recording both a single ‘Fool in My Brain’ later on that year and then an EP ‘If All Your Dreams Come True Where Are You Going to Sleep?’ in 1998 in this format, but that incarnation of the London-based group folded when Berridge and drummer Ed Lush were unable to find a suitable bassist.
Berridge carried on with Bromide as a solo act, recording two albums of catchy home recorded acoustic material, ‘No.Space.Anymore.Even.Inbetween.Words’ (2001) and ‘The Trouble with…Bromide ((2008). He and Lush then reignited the three piece set-up in 2012 for Bromide’s first studio album in fifteen years, ‘Some Electric Sometime’, which saw the album’s producer and ex-Gay Dad member Nigel of Bermondsey filling in on bass.
‘I Remember’ is a brisk, snappy affair, which combines super-melodicism with Berridge and new permanent bassist Hugo Wilkinson’s athletic, abrasive guitars. Tautly produced by Brian O’Shaughnessy who has worked with Primal Scream and My Bloody Valentine, it consists of one cover - an amped-up version of Magnetic Fields’ electronic-tinged ‘I Don’t Want to Get Over You’ –a nd nine cascading garage rock-influenced originals.
Berridge’s confessional lyrics pull off the double feat of being both refreshingly down-to-earth and also angular at the same time. ‘Henry Grimes’ pays tribute to a lost hero of jazz playing a comeback gig. ‘Mr Ciccone’s Daughter’ captures Berridge’s immediate relief when a potential romance with a close friend, despite his best efforts, doesn’t get off the ground. ‘Lion Tamer’s Jacket’ is about the sixteen-year old 60’s-worshipping Simon search across London for a jacket like one worn by his hero Jimi Hendrix, while the exuberant title track stretches back even further, capturing the moment of ecstasy when as a six-year old he first discovered music after his father slipped a pair of headphones over his ears to play him Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love'.
‘I Remember’, like all its predecessors, has been released on Simon Berridge’s own label Scratchy Records, which has also been a base over the years for several of his other favourite acts including the now disbanded Stooges-influenced the Rocks; glam rockers Jonny Cola and the A-Grades; acoustic singer-songwriter Matthew Neel, and Full English Breakfast, the cinematic , instrumental project of electronic one-man band Alvin Spetz.
Simon Berridge’s interview with Pennyblackmusic gets off to a somewhat shaky start. It is scheduled to take place in a quiet backstreet London pub near Victoria, but Berridge falls victim to central London’s notoriously dodgy parking meter system. It won’t let him make him a payment by phone, and none of the meters near the pub take coins. He dashes in some minutes late, full of apologies, and we retreat to the Capri driving around until we find a free spot near the Tate Modern.
As he starts to talk about Bromide, Simon Berridge reveals himself to be a natural storyteller and raconteur.
PB: I remember when we started the rehearsals for this record. I had that riff for ‘I Remember’ and I started playing it and Ed, our drummer, was immediately on it. He said, “That is the best thing that you have written in twenty years.”
I see the whole album, and that track in particular, as being a tribute to my dad who died last year. That song has both him and my step-mum in it. He was heavily into Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and it’s partly about listening to ‘Echoes’ for the first time in his car. I also definitely remember, as I describe in the song, my dad putting headphones over my ears and hearing that searing guitar from ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and thinking, “What is this?” Even though I was six or seven at that point, something was resonating and that was the point when I first started getting into music properly.
We were looking for titles for the album, and Hugo said, “What about ‘I Remember’?” Immediately I thought, “Of course.” It fitted perfectly. The whole album is about reminiscing, and someone a bit older like me looking back at some of the things in their life.
‘I Don’t Want to Get Over You’
That is a cover of a song by Magnetic Fields, which is on their ’69 Love Songs’ album. It was inspired by my then girlfriend and now wife. We had a bit of a rocky start, and she dumped me (Laughs). That song came very much out of my consciousness at that time. I had just bought ’69 Love Songs’, which I think is a masterpiece. This was in the early 2000s, and I used to enjoy playing that song acoustically because the words are so great. I thought, “That would work with the band even though it is not a loud, distorted song”, and, sure enough it did.
Henry Grimes is this great bass player. He played with Miles Davis and was in his backing band, but then his career faded in the late 1960s and then he went through this whole period of obscurity for years and years before someone in the early 2000s found him working as L.A. as a janitor and got him out touring again.
My cousin James took me to see him at Cafe Oto. It was an amazing gig. He had a very psychic presence. He was sitting on the stage at the Cafe Oto before the gig. You never see musicians sitting on stage just before they are about to play. They are usually back stage somewhere, but he was just sitting there very calmly. When he played, he had a drummer, a famous jazz improviser drummer, on one side of him and a saxophonist on the other. It was chaos. He was in the middle with his double bass, holding onto it like a sailor holding onto to the mast with the land in his eyes. It seemed as if he was looking 7,000 metres in front of him. He had this this immense aura about him.
The song is in fact about two different musicians. While the first half of it was written directly after seeing that gig, the second half of that song was written when my dad was dying. The two parts of that song were probably written a year or two apart.
The second part was about this busker on the Jubilee line. He was playing ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and again he had this completely transfixed look in his head. Everyone who was walking past him was feeling what he was playing, and we were all connected in that moment. It was a lovely moment even at a horrible time.
‘Mr Ciccone’s Daughter’
I have had that song for a while. It goes back to the early 1990s, and I recorded a demo of it with my terribly-named band of the time, Making Life. I remember one record company guy rejected it. He didn’t like my voice, but he said, “I have got a soft spot for ‘Mr Ciccone’s Daughter’ which was the third track on the demo, and I thought, “Oh, that’s good. It’s a rejection but he is admitting that he likes it.”
I rediscovered that demo tape, and thought “That song will do with the band as well.” When I played it to Ed and Hugo, Ed immediately said, “What’s that? Is it a cover by the Only Ones?” and I said, “No. That’s one of mine,” but it just seemed to immediately work with what we were doing even though it was an ancient song.
It was inspired by this girl who has been a soul mate of mine and a friend for years. Whenever I was single –and usually because I had just split up with a girlfriend – I would think, “I should be with Clare,” and because we were such great friends it never happened spontaneously. It was driving me mad and I was in a cab one day going home, which was quite rare because I didn’t take cabs that often, and I just thought, “I have to know now,” so I said to the driver, “Could you turn left? I have changed my mind. And we’re going to this address.”
I turned up at her place out of the blue and got her out of the bath. She knew something was up but she made me wait. She said, “I had planned to watch this Madonna interview.” Jonathan Ross was interviewing her. “You’re going to have to wait.” I had to wait until this interview was over to profess my love, and sure enough as soon as I did it I felt, of course, like a total idiot, but also this great relief off my shoulders. Of course, we weren’t right for each other that way. We were just great friends, but suddenly once it was all out I was like, “Thank God.” What I knew instinctively I had to go and find out. We are still good friends now. I actually saw her the other day.
‘The Lion Tamer’s Jacket’.
That song is about my obsession with the 1960s. It must have been 1981. Everyone else that I knew was into the mod revival, and I was busy buying as many records from the late 1960s and early 1970s records as I could, and Hendrix had just hit me. I thought, “He wears these military jackets. Where do I get one of those? (Laughs). So, I had this day going around the markets in London, and Camden Market in particular. After that, I went up and down King’s Road, asking some of the boutique owners, “Do you know where I can get these military jackets?” After a while someone told me, “Well, it is 1981 now and in 1967 you could have probably got it at any one of a number of shops along this road, but you’re a little bit out of sync. There is a military shop in Islington. Why don’t you try there?”
And so finally I ended up in this military shop in Islington where I was able to get the jacket, and, whether it was the same day or not - I like to think it is - I remember going to see ‘Monterey ‘ at Screen on the Green, which is also in Islington. It was amazing, seeing that film with the Mamas and Papas and the Who and Hendrix burn his guitar on stage. He conjured up magic at Monterey, and it is incredible that someone caught it on film. I was sixteen at the time, and whether I actually bought that jacket that day or not, it is a symbol to me of what I was starting to unearth and discover in 60’s music.
Ed and I have been known each other and been playing together for a long time now. We started out in the mid-1990s together, and, while we didn’t do much between 1998 and 2012 until Bromide became a band again, we still used to hang out together and Ed used to help me record my acoustic material.
Even without that consistency of doing much stuff though, we have always had a great chemistry. Pretty much the instant I started playing with Ed I thought, “He is a great drummer,” and as soon as we started playing together properly again everything clicked back into place.
You realise that it is all about people. We had this really good bass player before, John Morrison, who was in Hefner as well, and then when they got their record deal he had to leave and we had to replace him. We then played with this guy Jim who was good. He played all the notes, but something wasn’t right. We couldn’t progress as a force. We could replicate what we had done before, but something was missing. I have no idea what it was but there was something about the three of us as people that didn’t quite gel and that is really why the band folded then.
Then when we started up again, Nigel of Bermondsey, who produced our last album ‘Some Electric Sometime’, was our bassist to begin with. He got us afloat again, but his role was always going to be temporary. He said from the outset, “I am going to help you on the crossing. I am not there for the whole journey.” As I was going electric again, he was starting to go acoustic, and we temporarily crossed.
When we then needed someone to carry it on from him, I remembered this guy Hugo who I had met a few times. I knew that he was a bass man. He had played with Nigel himself, and I gave him a call and he said, “I am doing a few other things as well, but I am up for it.” The moment that he started playing with us it clicked. You don’t really have to communicate apart from with the music. You’re not having to tell someone, “I wish that you would play it like that” or “Can you play it like this?” As soon as you start doing that it is like saying to them, “Could you be a different person please?” (Laughs). It is never going to work.
I had just not been able to get a deal. I had had several bands and I had tried for about eight years. In 1996 I met this guy at work called Nick Johnstone, who became very much a mentor and introduced me to a lot of alternative American music. We were both working for ‘What Van?’ magazine, selling ad space. He has since gone on to become quite a famous music writer. He used to write for ‘Uncut’, and has written music biographies on Patti Smith, the Clash and Amy Winehouse among others. He was very much trying to get his writing going at the time, and was always doing things like pitching ‘Melody Maker’ with features ideas.
He had heard some of my music, and he thought that I would like a lot of things that at the time I didn’t know about such as Husker Du and Dinosaur Jr. I knew about Nirvana, but there was a lot that I didn’t know. I have got one of his tapes here. It’s got Shellac, an obscure Keith Richards song, Dinosaur Jr, Mike Watt, Sonic Youth, Tom Waits, Palace, Joy Division, Galaxie 500, Big Star all on it. I feel like I went through almost this degree course in amazing music thanks to him (Laughs). I am very grateful to him that he showed me this stuff.
The whole ethic behind a lot of those bands was that you got on and just did it. He used to remind me a lot that Patti Smith released her first single herself, and then one day he said that “I think that you have got enough songs for an album now. Why don’t you book a studio?” And so with his encouragement I did that. From there it wasn’t that much of a jump to putting out that first album on my own label.
It is a bit strange releasing your own stuff. I wish there was another label sometimes that would put out my music. From starting out with Bromide records it has allowed me to go on though and meet and release records by people like the Rocks, Spork, Matthew Neel, Jonny Cola and the A-Grades and Full English Breakfast . It has allowed me to sell the music as well that I really like and that I think should be heard. I really love doing that.
Full English Breakfast
Alvin Spetz - that is a pseudonym - has got a fantastic story. He’s always been a very reclusive figure ever since I’ve known him. We were at boarding school together with about sixty of us living on top of each other in the same house and even in this very cramped environment he somehow still managed to hide.
About five years after leaving school we met again - this was 1988. Someone, a mutual friend, found out that I was doing music. Alvin had started to do music at Aberdeen University, and he put us in touch and we met up. Alvin played me this tape, and I was like, “What the hell is this?” About as radical as I got in 1988 was Neil Young. He was playing this music that was influenced by the Pop Group, Josef K, Edwyn Collins, by Postcards Records, by stuff that had never come into my consciousness, and this was a guy that had never even done music at school. He had started this after I had last known him, and I looked at him and said, “My God. Is this inside you?” (Laughs)
I joined his band to begin with, and we did one gig in Belgium because there was a radio DJ in Belgium, Thierry Nollet, who loved his stuff and who would play it next to the Pixies and S-Express. He arranged this gig for us and we did the gig in Belgium, but soon after that unfortunately Alvin got in with some people I can’t really talk about and I lost touch with him completely. The lines were cut.
Over the next ten years or so the only thing I knew about him was by reading the occasional newspaper article over someone’s shoulder on the tube! Then in about 1999 I saw an article about him living in Hildenborough in Kent and so I thought, “Right I am going to go there and find him.” I went down there with a friend. We just started asking in pubs in Hildenborough (Laughs), which seems crazy. There was a lot of “We know who you mean, but we can’t say,” but somehow we found him, and knocked on the door and this bearded face appeared at the window. It was Alvin, and we have been back in touch ever since, and he is pretty much my best friend.
I have always loved his music. In the ten year gap since I had last seen him I had started up Scratchy, and I said to him, “Can I release some of this?” and he was like “I don’t know. I am never going to do gigs.I have got this strange background. Why would people want to hear my stuff?” And I said to him, “Alvin, your music is fucking amazing.” He is the one person out of all the people that I know that I would say has that genius streak. He is crazy enough to be called a genius. So anyway he let me put it out and he started getting all these amazing reviews, like four out of five in ‘The Sunday Times’ and in ‘Uncut’, and I was like “I told you. I told you people would like it.”
I was hoping that it would get him gigging. It didn’t, but he has carried on doing loads of music. He has done two albums, and now the third one is on its way. It is going to come out on Scratchy in a few months hopefully.
I have got two part time jobs, and on top of that I have started working a little bit for someone who has got a business licensing music library material. I am hoping that maybe I can get into that market because there is actually money there. There are not a lot of other places left to find money in music. We all do it out of love and because we love doing it. Especially in the case of Full English Breakfast, some of his music is crazy enough that it would be great on films and adverts. It is just a case of getting it out there.
Bromide is also going to be out and about. We have got a gig in Oxford coming up. That is our first out-of-towner together. We are trying to get some others. We will be getting gigs wherever we can really. It feels that we have something really good to play to people hopefully.
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John Clarkson chats to Simon Berridge , the front man with London-based indie trio Bromide, about his confessional new album, 'I Remember', and label, Scratchy Records
Bromide is the lo-fi indie outfit of London-based singer-songwriter and musician, Simon Berridge. He speaks to John Clarkson about 'Some Electric Sometime', his just released his fourth album, which has found him returning to the studio for the first time in fifteen years
I Remember - Tape
Affectionate tribute to musical memory on cassette only new single from London-based alternative rock trio, Bromide
Some Electric Sometime - CD
Musically upbeat, but lyrically bruised fabulous first studio album in fifteen years from Bromide, the project of London-based singer-songwriter and musician Simon Berridge
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