The Motorcycle Boy's only album 'Scarlet' has been publicised as "three weeks in the making...thirty years of waiting."

For a few brief months in 1987 the Edinburgh-based five-piece group had seemed set for huge success. Its debut single, 'Big Rock Candy Mountain', had stormed to no. 2 in the indie charts and received national airplay, and the band, which consisted of Alex Taylor (vocals), Michael Kerr (guitar), David Scott (guitar), Eddy Connelly (bass) and Paul McDermott (drums, replaced on 'Scarlet'by Anthony Cooper), appeared on the front cover of 'NME'.

The Motorcycle Boy had formed the year before in 1986 out of two other Scottish bands - Edinburgh indie band the Shop Assistants in which Taylor had been one of the vocalists, and Meat Whiplash in which Kerr, Connelly and McDermott had all appeared and released one single 'Don't Slip Up' on Creation Records in 1985.

With its trademark lush guitars, Taylor's crystal vocals and anthemic pop sound, the Motorcycle Boy offered an alternative to much of the then 'shambling' C-86 indie scene that was then prevalent.

It was, however, not able to build on its initial success. A second single, the Flood produced 'Sweet Dreams Pretty Baby', which was due to be released on Chrysalis, was aborted, and, while it subsequently went into the studio in early 1988 with producer Pat Collier to record 'Scarlet', the album too was shelved in what has been described as "a perfect storm of band in fighting, sackings, naive management and record company reticence."

Three decades on, after many years of searching to find out who now owned the rights to it and to buy them back, Michael Kerr, who now lives in Haddington and works as a nurse, has self-released 'Scarlet' in an edition of 500 CD and 500 vinyl copies on his own Forgotten Astronaut Records.

In interview with Pennyblackmusic, he spoke to us about the Motorcycle Club's short, turbulent career and 'Scarlet'.

PB: Your first band Meat Whiplash were signed to Creation Records and released just one single, ‘Don’t Slip Up’. What are your memories of the Creation Records experience?

MICHAEL KERR: We were very naïve as to how the music industry worked, even at the lowest level. Alan McGee was always so enthusiastic and came over as truly genuine and he would put us up in his flat when we were down in London. The Creation offices were on Farringdon Road at the time and we were hugely impressed that they actually had a proper office. Dick Green and Joe Foster were also around a lot at that time. Dick was a good counterbalance to McGee, he was always calm and one of the nicest guys you could meet. Obviously around that time there was a lot of attention on Creation due to the Jesus and Mary Chain’s success and the rest of us sort of rode along on their coat tails. We toured around with Primal Scream and The Weather Prophets a lot and the trips down south with Primal Scream were always memorable. I think we needed that experience of being on Creation, it allowed us to get some mistakes out of the way and allowed us to learn a few things along the way. Funnily enough Don’t Slip Up is going to be re-released by Optic Nerve sometime soon.

PB: Meat Whiplash were doing quite well. They were signed to one of the most influential labels in the country. ‘Don’t Slip Up’ had been produced by the Jesus and MAry Chain's Jim and William Reid. Why did you Eddy Connolly and Paul McDermott decide to break Meat Whiplash up and join forces with Alex Taylor and David Scott?

MK: Myself, Eddie and Paul were unemployed and unemployable at the time, all we really wanted to do was play in a band. Meat Whiplash's vocalist Stephen McLean was working as a printer so what we could do was becoming limited by his work schedule. Eddie has started going out with Alex Taylor and moved to Edinburgh so the band sort of petered out, although I don’t think we had more than one record in us. I eventually moved through to Edinburgh also as I had started playing live with Jesse Garon & The Desperadoes when their guitarist couldn’t make it.

PB: Alex had been one of the singers in the Shop Assistants. How aware were you of the Shop Assistants before you formed the Motorcycle Boy? The Motorcycle Boy were an Edinburgh-based band. Did both you and Paul also move through there from East Kilbride?

MK: Meat Whiplash had played on the same bill as the Shop Assistants, supporting the Mary Chain, but we were very aware of them prior to this. We had all bought the Buba & The Shop Assistants single before they morphed into the Shop Assistants.

Alex and Eddie had become a couple and were living together and I moved through to Edinburgh and moved into the flat they were sharing. It was a number of months before Paul moved through. He ended up going out with Sarah from the Shop assistants so it was getting quite “cosy” at the time. We were looking for a lead guitarist and David Scott was a friend of a friend. He tried out for the band and it was a no brainer that he would join after we heard him play.

PB: The Motorcycle Boy started out with great success. You seemed in late 1987and early 1988 on the verge of making the breakthrough into the mainstream. Was it a case of too much too soon?

MK: There were a number of factors involved. We didn’t follow up 'Big Rock Candy Mountain' quickly enough. As soon as that started getting that level of attention we should have gone into the studio although I don’t think, at that time, we had a strong enough song to follow it.

There was disagreement within the band regarding the 'NME' cover, two members thought it was a good thing and two members thought it wouldn’t look good as we only had a half page interview in that edition. It could look like we had “bought” the front cover as most people were unaware of the circumstances surrounding us being on the front page. I don’t think our management team gave us enough guidance when it came to making difficult decisions and the combination of these and certain other factors put us on the back foot.

PB: In hindsight was your biggest mistake moving from Rough Trade after ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’ to Chrysalis?

MK: We never really moved. We were always signed to Blue Guitar which was a subsidiary of Chrysalis. 'Big Rock Candy Mountain' was released on Rough Trade as Chrysalis knew we’d get into the indie charts and get some attention. Geoff Travis, who owned Rough Trade, had set up Blue Guitar for Chrysalis so it was Geoff who had sorted all that out.

PB: The Motorcycle Boy in contrast to many of the other acts of the indie scene especially in Scotland were doing something different and had a huge guitar sound. Is that something which you feel ultimately went against you?

MK: Possibly, but that sound was quite calculated. It was something we wanted to do and it was something that we were willing to stand by. We had wanted to get away from the “shambling” and “twee” scene that had surrounded us in Meat Whiplash and the Shop Assistants. That big guitar sound, along with sequencers, had gotten us Radio 1 daytime airplay so, at that time, had served us well. It possibly put off the purist “indie kids” but, as the saying goes, you can’t please all the people all the time.

PB: ‘Scarlet’ has a real timeless quality. Would you agree and how do you feel listening to it now?

MK: Obviously just after recording it I listened to it a lot but the frictions within the band that caused me to leave meant I didn’t listen to it for about twenty years.

A copy of it surfaced on the internet, which I downloaded, and I listened to it a few times. I had mixed feelings about it. I could easily pick out its faults but I still thought the songs stood up well and couldn’t understand why Chrysalis never released it. Now having received the master tapes, rather than an MP3 version of a copy of a copy of an old cassette, I now hear all those subtleties again. I can forgive all the faults and appreciate it for what it is. I don’t think I truly appreciated how great Alex’s singing was and the level of guitar playing that David achieved. I wholeheartedly agree about the “timeless” quality. It doesn’t really sound dated without it sounding like something from the last few years.

PB: It was produced by Pat Collier, who had worked with Primal Scream and the Vibrators. What do you think he brought to the album?

MK: Around the time of the recording there was a certain amount of friction that was bubbling underneath. Pat managed to pull the band together and got us to focus completely on what was in front of us. Pat was really laid back which certainly made the recording process easier but he had a knack of knowing exactly what each song needed and knew how to give the album an overall feel without making each song sound the same. If you listen to all the bands that he produced at that time, he never used the same production “tricks” for each band but allowed each group to have their own sound. I’ve just sent Pat a copy of the album and he seemed rather pleased with it.

PB: At what point did you leave the band?

MK: I left the band after recording the album but how long after I can’t quite remember. Alex and Eddie had sacked David without ever consulting me and after some deliberation I left in solidarity. To this day David and myself don’t know why he was thrown out but I do know that my departure came as a surprise to Alex and Eddie. The decision to leave was easy to make although I still regret the circumstances that led to me leaving. Eddie had been a friend from school and that friendship was gone in an instant.

PB: ‘Scarlet was rumoured to be coming out on Cherry Red in the early 2000s. Why did that not happen?

MK: I had also heard that rumour and had also heard that Cherry Red had contacted the band but nobody had wanted to get involved. I don’t know if the rumour is true but, as far as I’m aware, nobody was contacted by Cherry Red. I was told that Cherry Red had found it difficult to track down the master tapes so had binned the project. Again, I don’t know if any of that was true. When I finally tracked down the tapes I offered them to both Cherry Red and Rough Trade. Ironically both declined.

PB: You spent many years looking for the master tapes of the record before finally finding them at a company called Blue Raincoat. Why were you so determined to find them? Was it simply unfinished business? Who are Blue Raincoat? Once you had found the masters, how easy or difficult was it to secure the rights of the record and to release them through your own Forgotten Astronaut label?

MK: Over the years, and when I had an idle moment, my mind would often drift to thoughts of what might have been had the album ever been released. A few years ago I had quite a serious health issue that might not have had a successful outcome. Fortunately I came out the other side of it but it did make me a bit more introspective and I began to think of any regrets in life I would have had I not made it. The only real regret I had was the album never being released.

Around the same time I met up with David Scott for the first time in twenty years. We discussed the album and, despite our latter experiences in the band, both wished it had been released. As you say, we probably both saw it as unfinished business but there was a far deeper personal aspect to it. We both had families and I think it was a way of saying to them……..look, here’s what we did when we weren’t much older than yourselves.

David was living in Kentucky at this time so the onus rather naturally fell on me to track down the tapes. This was a more onerous task than I first imagined. As Chrysalis no longer existed as a record label, having been taken over by a larger company some years earlier, it was difficult to know where to begin. Each figurative door I knocked on seemed to go unopened or when opened I received no worthwhile information. Even Geoff Travis had no idea where the tapes were. This carried on for a number of years until I stumbled on their whereabouts by accident. I was watching the Cherry Red channel on YouTube one evening when they were interviewing someone from Blue Raincoat Music. During the conversation it was mentioned that they controlled the Chrysalis back catalogue...that certainly caught my interest. I immediately emailed them and the next day I received a reply that they did indeed hold the rights to The Motorcycle Boy back catalogue but they also had the master tapes. My relief was tangible, a real Hallelujah moment. I asked if they were willing to licence the album to us which they were more than happy to do. I know I prattled on a bit there but, for me personally, that search for the tapes is a huge part of this story.

PB:-What are the members of the band doing now? Have you had much to do with each other in recent times? Is there any chance of a reunion even for some Scottish shows?

MK: David and Eddie both live in the USA. David is an associate professor at the University of Louisville and I’m not sure what Eddie does but he lives in Arizona. I meet up with David when he is over visiting and I met up with Eddie when he was over for his dad’s funeral. The big mystery is the whereabouts of Alex Taylor. The last I heard she had got married and moved back to her native Perth. I did make attempts to track her down but to no avail. The chances of a reunion, therefore, are rather slim.

PB: Thank you.

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Commenting On: Interview - Motorcycle Boy

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23917 Posted By: Julie Brunskill (Huddersfield. Yorkshire.)

I could've cried when I found out scarlet was released and I've got both cd and vinyl versions. They were my fave indie group and I wanted to be alex taylor so much!! Wish she was found and who knows a reunion show! Brilliant article. When you've been looking for info for 30 years and it all falls into place.

23906 Posted By: @workshopb16 (instagram) (Fife)

Well done for getting this out there...can't believe it was never released at the time ...the pressing sounds better than chrysalis could ever have managed... great job.. some things are worth waiting for and this is one of them. My record of the decade. Everybody involved should be very proud.
Great interview.

Thank you


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