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“All Godfathers numbers are fun. This is entertainment. This is rock and roll music,” says Peter Coyne at one point during his third interview with Pennyblackmusic. “We don’t want to ever tell people how to think or that you have got this wrong. We would never insult an audience in that way. We are saying, however, that this is how we feel about this stuff, and if you like it great. If you don’t, go fuck yourself.”
Coyne is on the phone from his home in Prestwick near Ayr in Scotland to talk about his band the Godfathers’ latest album, ‘A Big Bad Beautiful Noise’. South London-born and for many years based there, he moved to Prestwick a few years ago to be with his Scottish girlfriend and now wife.
It is over thirty years now since the Godfathers, which vocalist Coyne formed out of the ashes of the short-lived Sid Presley Experience with his bass-playing brother Chris, first erupted out of the Elephant and Castle in the mid-1980’s.
Sharply dressed in Mafia-style suits, they drew immediate controversy for both their image and their vituperative anti-Thatcherite politics, but won equal acclaim for their fiery live shows, their duelling twin guitar sound and an instantly classic trio of early albums, ‘Hit by Hit’ (1986), ‘Birth School Work Death’ (1988) and ‘More Songs about Love and Hate’ (1989).
In the 1990’s Godfathers recorded three more albums, ‘Unreal World’ (1991), ‘The Godfathers’ (1993, which is better known as ‘The Orange Album’ because of its picture of an orange on the cover) and ‘Afterlife’ (1996), before they broke up towards the end of that decade.
The Godfathers reformed in late 2007, and have since then released a hit-and-miss seventh album ‘Jukebox Fury’(2013) and toured regularly. Now they are back in a new line-up - their first in their regular five-piece line-up in several years - which, as well, as vocalist Coyne, consists of Steve Crittall and Mauro Venegas (both guitars), Darren Birch (bass) and Tim James (drums). They have also recorded in ‘A Big Bad Beautiful Noise’, which is being released on their own Godfathers Recordings, their best album since the 80's.
Influenced in part by the chaos of Brexit and when it was being recorded by the then impending ascension of Donald Trump, songs such as the primal Stooges-like title track – which gleefully imagines a riot and the shooting of an assortment of corrupt politician s– and the brooding ‘Miss America’ – which re-imagines America as a fading beauty queen – have all the anger of the early Godfathers’ recordings. The exuberant, very funny ‘Let’s Go Higher’ in contrast finds its witless protagonist smoking himself into a stupor on too much marijuana, while the final number ‘You and Me Against the World’ is a sweeping, epic anthem in which Coyne realises that as long as he has love he can survive whatever the world throws at him.
Pennyblackmusic spoke to Peter Coyne about the Godfathers’ new line-up and ‘A Big Bad Beautiful Noise’.
PB: You said in an interview in 2015 that “we want to make lots of different music in the Godfathers, not just be known for one or two different things.” Do you think that you have achieved that with ‘A Big Bad Beautiful Noise’?
PETER COYNE: One of the things that I like about ‘A Big Bad Beautiful Noise’ is that there are lots of musical textures on it. It is a real proper album in that regard. There are some songs that you might immediately associate with the Godfathers and then there are other songs that you will think, “I would have never expected them in a million years to do anything like that.”
We like all kinds of music within the band. We have - for want of a better phrase – Catholic tastes within the group. Everyone loves different things and it is great to put that in our own music. One of the things that we were searching for when we were writing this album was to write an album of totally different songs that all hook up together. For me, it starts big with the title track and then it finishes big with ‘You and Me Against the World’ and in between it has got a nice flow about it. It has got a sense of the unexpected about it. Playing it for the first time you don’t know where the record is hoping to jump to next.
PB: You say in your press release that you wanted with this record “to make...a rock ‘n’ roll album that expands upon the musical legacy of the great Godfathers’ albums -‘Hit by Hit’, ‘Birth School, Work, Death’, ‘More Songs about Love and Hate’ and ‘Unreal World’”. You have recorded another three studio albums since then and also two live records. Why have you chosen to highlight those records? Is it because they are the other ones with the twin guitar sound, while neither ‘The Orange Album’ nor ‘Jukebox Fury’ have that?
PETER COYNE: No. They were our first four albums and the ones that people still know best. I have always said though that the strongest Godfathers albums for me are ‘Hit by Hit’, ‘Birth, School, Work, Death’, ‘More Songs about Love and Hate’ and ‘The Orange Album’.
They were the ones that we had to beat with ‘A Big Bad Beautiful Noise’. We are not trying to compete with ourselves. That would be stupid. We didn’t want to do ‘Hit by Hit Part 2’ and ‘More Songs about Love and Hate: The Sequel’. We wanted to do a brand new album that is 2017, that is not relying on the past glories that we have done in the past.
They are definitely the strongest albums though in our collection as far as I am concerned. We have got certain standards in the Godfathers and I don’t like to see them slip. I wasn’t happy at all with ‘Jukebox Fury’. I thought it was a compromise album and that it could have been a lot stronger than it was. It was a massive pain in the neck recording it, and I still wasn’t happy with it at the end of the day. The best thing about ‘Jukebox Fury’ for me is the album cover. There are a few songs on it that I am happy with. I like ‘Back to the Future’. I like ‘Primitive Man’. I like ‘I Can’t Sleep Tonight’ – We still play that live now – but I am struggling beyond those three to really think of songs that were amazing, while I can’t say that about this ‘A Big Bad Beautiful Noise’. I think that every song is great. It is of a much higher standard than that last record.
PB: To pick up on your point about it being an album of now, do you see the main theme of ‘A Big Bad Beautiful Noise’ as being about surviving in the 21st first century?
PETER COYNE: Probably. I am still a bit close to the album and having recorded the songs to say that yet. You learn all that maybe a year, two years after you have recorded it. Then you pick up the record and play it and go, “Ah, that is what that is about.”
This album was recorded in the summer of 2016. There are tons of things flying around the air whenever you record an album that you either pick up and grab or you just ignore and lose it, but there was no way that we could ignore things like the Brexit vote which I just thought was ridiculous and which I still think is a stupid decision.
We wanted to write a song about that, but not do it in a corny soap opera box kind of way. That is why the album finishes with ‘You and Me Against the World’. Musically that number is inspired by the death of David Bowie and lyrically by the political fall-out from Brexit. Sometimes in Godfathers numbers are not just about one thing. Musically it might be about one thing and lyrically about another, and then thematically a whole song might be in a different area, a different direction again. That is the case here. That song starts off really darkly and it turns into this really beautiful love song, and we thought that was the ideal way to finish off the album.
PB: Was the title track inspired by the riots in London of 2011?
PETER COYNE: It is a an expression I first used when a journalist asked me to describe the Godfathers to someone who had never heard the band. I said then, “It is a big bad beautiful noise.” When I looked at it written down in black and white print I thought that there was something in that phrase and that I would turn it into a song and start writing some lyrics for it. I started working on the music with Steve Crittall, and after forty-five minutes of recording some basic backing tracks we knew that we had something special.
The second verse starts off with “I started shooting politicians around about a quarter to nine,” and then unfortunately Jo Cox was murdered. That song is not about that sort of politician getting murdered and glorifying and celebrating that. She was just some poor unfortunate girl who got shot by some sicko. That is not the sort of feeling that ‘A Big Bad Beautiful Noise’ generates for me. It is about for me disorder, mass rebellion, striking against the establishment and enjoying yourself while you are doing it.
We have always written social commentary numbers in the Godfathers. ‘Hit by Hit’ has got ‘This Damn Nation’. ‘Birth School Work Death’, ‘More Songs about Love and Hate’ and ‘Unreal World’ all have tracks like that. I wanted to write another one of those numbers, but in a different way and again in a way that could only be written and recorded in 2016 and which could have only come out in 2017. All the best Godfathers songs are timeless. They are universal. They might be about what is going on right here, right now but they last. Songs like ‘Birth, School, Work, Death’ still sound as relevant now as they did back when they were recorded and apply to what is going on today.
PB: It is an album of extremes, isn’t it? You have got songs like the title track that are as angry as anything as the Godfathers have ever done, but on the opposite side you have got songs like ‘She’s Mine’ And ‘You and Me Against the World’ which reveal a much more tender side to you.
PC: That is life, isn’t it? It is made up of lots of different things. We are not a one song band, a one theme band. We want to write about as many different things as possible at the end of the day. Bob Marley did that sort of thing all the time. He made the most rebellious music and then he would write the most amazing love song. All the best songwriters do that. There is no way that I would put myself in Bob Marley’s league. It is the way to do it though. We are human beings in the Godfathers at the end of the day. Of course, you fall in and out of love.
PB: What was the inspiration behind ‘Miss America’?
PETER COYNE: That was the last song to be completed for the album. Mauro Venegas had come up with the initial music for it, but I wasn’t happy with the initial lyrics that I came up with for that number. The album was recorded in two parts, so we recorded a lot of the album in one week. Then we took two weeks off to think about everything and then we went back in for the last week, so we only spent two weeks in total recording the whole album. In the two weeks in between I started working more on the lyrics which I had the bare bones of but which just needed fleshing out more.
In America everybody is asking lots of questions and everybody wants answers. I don’t think that Donald Trump is the answer by a long shot. If he is the answer, then what is the fucking question? So, I was thinking about America and imagining her as a fading beauty queen. The song kicked off from there really, but again there was no way in which we were recording it in June and July of last year that we knew who was going to win that American presidential election. The way that number has so got its finger on the pulse is unbelievable. The best rock and roll bands always hold a mirror to society and say, “That is what you look like.” That is what I tried to do with that song ‘Miss America’ – evoke lots of questions and try and find if there is an answer out there.
I think that it is a really beautiful, haunting song. Mauro Venegas right at the last minute played a fantastic twelve string guitar that opens and closes that number, and then Steve Crittall added a really spooky theremin to that song. That is not a keyboard part. It is a theremin part. It adds another feeling of strangeness to that whole track which fitted perfectly.
PB: ‘Let’s Go Higher’ is very funny. It could be interpreted as both a pro-dope or an anti-dope song. What’s your take on it?
PETER COYNE: Thank you. We are not a comedy band by any stretch of the imagination, but it is meant to be funny. Not every Godfathers song has to be serious. We do write serious songs. We are a serious group, but we can enjoy a little wry look at life.
I enjoyed smoking dope myself personally for years. I don’t smoke dope much now to be honest with you, but at one point I was terrible. I would get up, have a cup of tea and that would be it for the rest of the day. One spliff would lead to another. There are good things about smoking marijuana. There are lots of worse things that a person could do, but sometimes the things people smoke these days is ridiculous, like all that Chronic and Sick Grass. You can smell it from like fucking five miles off. It is no good for the head. and if people are on that all the time it turns you into like a real moron. ‘Let’s Go Higher’ kicks from start to finish. I think it has got a brilliant vibrancy to it and I love the lyrics.
PB: You said that you recorded ‘A Big Bad Beautiful Noise’ in a fortnight with two weeks on and two weeks off. Do you think that sense of urgency and doing it quickly benefited the album?
PETER COYNE: Definitely. If you have got a time frame to work towards and if you have got a cut-off date, you will do it and you will get the best work rate out of yourself. There are too many bands these days who spend so much time fannying about, and they just disappear up their own arses musically and collectively as a group. Six months recording an album is ridiculous. We wrote what we knew were great songs, we rehearsed them and then we pretty much knew what we were going to do when we went into the studio. All we had to do it was record it and get the best takes out of each number. There is always a bit of leeway in finishing off a number like ‘Miss America’ and getting it absolutely right which I think we did. Recording it quickly is the key to everything though. It just makes it sound more immediate, more fresh.
There are about three or four vocals on that album which are just one takes. With ‘Miss America’ - the vocal I did on that one - was the second vocal that I ever did on that song and it is a complete take all the way through. It is the same with ‘A Big Bad Beautiful Noise’ as well, and it is the same with the outro of ‘You and Me Against the World’ also.
You just know instinctively when it is right. We have been doing things for thirty years. If something isn’t right or needs improving you are aware of it and fix it, but when you have got it right just leave it alone.
PB: Like all your albums it has got a beginning, a middle and an end. Did you spend a lot of time working on the track listing?
PETER COYNE: We did actually. We had a fair idea that it was going to begin with the title track, but it was where we were going to go from there basically. There was a lot of email exchanges between all five of us working out what was going to be the best sequence for the album and there was a fair bit of debate about it all, but I think we got there in the end.
I think that this album does have a brilliant flow to it. I think this record is really going to last. If I died in a car crash tomorrow and this was the last Godfathers album, then I am so fucking happy. I don’t want that to happen. I want to enjoy life, but if that did happen then I am very happy with it. I am happy with everything that I have done on this record, totally 100% satisfied.
PB: You recorded the album in Birmingham. Why did you decide to go to Birmingham to make it?
PETER COYNE: Because Tim James lives in Birmingham. Darren Birch also lives in Birmingham, and it was a friend of theirs who was helping us to record the album, a guy called Paul Robert Gray. Paul has been running his own studio in Birmingham for years. He was a really super guy to work with. He was a fan of the Godfathers. When he heard that we were recording an album, he offered his help and the studio straightaway. He recorded it, and then Steve Crittall and Paul mixed a lot of the tracks together.
Paul plays all the percussion on the album as well. He did a lot of it, like, for instance, the tambourine on ‘You Don’t Love Me’ in one take. It was amazing to watch and it was exactly what we wanted for the tambourine on that track, a Motown sound. He is a lovely guy, a very clever guy, a pleasure to work with.
PB: The art work on the album was designed by your in-house artist Jaime Martin. Why is there a picture of the Eiffel Tower on it?
PETER COYNE: It is not the Eiffel Tower. It is one in Brazil actually. What is the album cover supposed to say? It is not down to me to say, but to everyone else who looks at it. Maybe we are transmitting something like ‘A Big Bad Beautiful Noise’ to the entire planet. Maybe we are sending some kind of wicked energy to people to get them through another day. Maybe we are transmitting to each other in the band and saying, “Are you receiving me?” There are lots of ways of looking at that cover.
Jaime Martin is an outstanding artist. He does such fantastic work for the Godfathers. He did the artwork for ‘Jukebox Fury’ as well. He also does all our live posters and he just comes up with amazing things to look at. I think the way he approaches his art is terrific. There is just something special about his stuff for me, and I think if it mixes with me other people will like it too.
PB: You are about to play a six date UK tour. These will be your first dates here other than Camden Rocks and the Isle of Wight Festival since June 2015 and the first in the new full line-up. What can we expect from you?
PETER COYNE: We will be playing a lot of songs off ‘A Big Bad Beautiful Noise’. We will also be playing a lot of songs off the Godfathers back catalogue that we really like and we will be throwing in a few surprises as well. It will be totally thrilling rock and roll music from start to finish. We don’t cheat an audience. The right line-up of the Godfathers which this one is will kill any audience anywhere and make them feel fantastic when they leave the building.
PB: After the UK tour what are your plans after that?
PETER COYNE: The album comes out on February 10th. We play Birmingham on the 10th and we have got London on the 11th, so basically the album is coming out right at the start of the tour.
After the UK tour we are taking a couple of weeks off and then we are going out to Europe to play some concerts out there in Belgium, Germany and Austria. We have got loads of festivals lined up already this summer. We are going to be very, very busy this year playing lots of gigs around the world to promote this album.
PB: Thank you.
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