The Mighty Lemon Drops formed in 1985 in Wolverhampton with Paul Marsh (vocals), Dave Newton (guitars), Tony Linehan (bass) and Keith Rowley (drums). They released their debut single, 'Like an Angel', on the Television Personalities' Dan Treacy's Dreamworld Records. After 'Like an Angel' went to number one in the indie charts, the Mighty Lemon Drops signed to Geoff Travis from Rough Trade's new Blue Guitar label, a subsidiary of Chrysalis, for their 1986 debut album 'Happy Head'

The group's music had a psychedelic post punk sound and owed a heavy debt to Echo and the Bunnymen, whose singer Ian McCulloch's despondent vocals Marsh drew regular comparisons with. Both 'Happy Head' and their instantly classic 1988 second album, 'World Without End', entered the charts. Linehan, who was the band's co-writer with Newton, left during the sessions for their 1989 third album ' Laughter', and was replaced by Marcus Williams.

The Mighty Lemon Drops recorded two more albums, '1991's 'Sound...Goodbye to Your Standards' and 1992's 'Ricochet', before finally breaking up shortly after the release of the latter album.

Their entire back catalogue was re-released recently by American label Wounded Bird . A new compilation 'Uptight', which consisted mostly of unreleased early recordings, came out earlier this year on Cherry Red.

The group appeared on the original 'C86' tape, which has just been reissued in a three CD box set. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Dave Newton about the Mighty Lemon Drops' career.

PB: The band were on the original C86 tape with ‘Happy Head’, the title track from your debut album, How at the time did you feel about being chosen to be on what became a strong-selling album, and are you pleased that it is now being re-released?

DN: Well actually the version of 'Happy Head' on 'C86' is not the same version that was re-recorded for our first album. Roy Carr at the 'NME' contacted us about 'C86', and asked if they could use our first single, 'Like an Angel'. We had all heard their previous 'C81' compilation, which is a collection of different mixes and dub versions, and we initially presumed 'C86' would be like that. We also didn’t know how long the band would be around, so we asked if we could record something exclusive. Roy gave us a little money, and we recorded three songs in a few hours in an inexpensive studio in Wolverhampton, and chose 'Happy Head', a song written a few days before as our submission.

Yes, it’s great that it is being re-released, though sometimes we all wish we had submitted something like the single version of 'Like an Angel' as we didn’t expect the likes of Primal Scream and the Bodines to give them their singles.

PB: The band hail from Wolverhampton. Was there a decent musical community there at the time? It seemed like you used to play Dudley's JB's a lot of the time.

DN: When we started out in early 1985, there wasn’t much going on locally. Not even in nearby Birmingham, with a few exceptions, such as the Nightingales and Pigros. As for Wolverhampton, there was absolutely nothing of note. There was a sort-of “psychedelic scene” in Brum but it was all pretty safe, not edgy or exciting at all, to our ears anyway. JB’s in Dudley had, by that point, become our second home almost. We would spend two or three days a week there.

PB: Originally three members of the Mighty Lemon Drops were in a band called Active Restraint, How long were you together? And did you release anything?

DN: A couple of years maybe? We released one single that surprisingly John Peel and Kid Jensen played. We were really young, eighteen or so. Then I co-formed a band called the Wild Flowers who released an album and two singles during 1983 and 1984 on Reflex Records. I left at the end of '84 (they continued and put out records on Chapter 22 and Slash/London Records).

I started hanging around with Paul Marsh again, who I had known since I was welve, and we got back in touch with Tony and within a month or so the Mighty Lemon Drops were born in early 1985.

PB: The Mighty Lemon Drops were originally called the Sherbet Monsters. Why the name change?

DN: It really is amazing how far a joke can travel. Tony jokingly said that in an interview once for fun. Next thing, when we get our record deal, it is in our press release. Then it is in our American press release. We spent the next seven years explaining to every interviewer that we were never actually called the Sherbert Monsters, and here we are, nearly thirty years later doing the same. Funny old world!

PB: Do you think that using a twelve string electric guitar created your sound?

DN: Definitely. We couldn’t afford to buy one in the early days as we were all unemployed and they weren’t cheap, but once we cobbled together enough money to buy one the answer would be yes.

PB: The band's first single ‘Like an Angel’ was released on Dreamworld, which was then a new label. Was that a high point, actually getting a single out to the world? How did you get on with Dan Treacy from the Television Personalities who owned the label?

DN: It wasn’t really a new label, Dan had a label previously called Whaam Records, and apparently the band Wham insisted he change the name, and I’m pretty sure they paid him some money too. I was a fan of the Television Personalities and sent Dan an early demo tape we’d made, and he invited us to London to play two gigs, one supporting the Televsion Personalities in Deptford and another the following day supporting the Membranes at a club he ran with his girlfriend Emily, The Room At The Top, upstairs at the Chalk Farm Enterprise pub. We got an amazing review in 'NME' from The Legend! aka Everett True and that was when Dan asked us to record what would be the 'Like an Angel' EP.

PB: In hindsight do you think you should have released the ‘Happy Head’ album independently rather than on Blue Guitar Records?

DN: There was talk of possibly doing a mini-album on Dreamworld in early 1986 but by that point we had started to get a lot of interest from bigger record labels, which was not something we ever imagined would happen when we started the band a year earlier. We were four unemployed guys in Wolverhampton and just wanted to form a band. By this time we were developing as musicians/songwriters, and we started to see possibilities beyond what we would have ever imagined in the beginning.

We really liked and respected Geoff Travis, so when he offered us a deal with his new Blue Guitar label via Chrysalis we thought it was the perfect combination of the independent spirit and attitude with the major label muscle. I think our 'Happy Head' album is basically the same as if it would have been released on an indie label, just a better recording and a little more in-tune and in time. It was recorded pretty quickly.

PB: The original band lasted three albums, with the material written by Newton/Linehan. What was the writing process? Did you both write lyrics and music?

DN: Firstly the original line up only made two full albums (Tony is on two tracks of the third album 'Laughter'). As for the writing process, basically Tony and I would both write songs individually, then we would get together and tweak each others ideas before presenting them to the band. It was all quite disciplined really. We weren’t really into “jamming” or whatever you want to call it.

PB: The Mighty Lemon Drops had a healthy following even when you changed line ups? Did the band vibe change once Tony had left?

DN: Yes it was a different vibe after Tony left but good in a different way. Marcus (Williams, bass) was recommended by a friend and had been playing with Julian Cope. Our first Mk 2 album 'Laughter' was ambitious, a little different and I still think it is 70% good. The album did well in America and made the Billboard charts, which was sort-of a big deal back then, for a band like us anyway.

PB: The band released five albums and an extended EP before splitting. Do you think college radio in the States gave the band an extended life line and a bigger audience than back home?

DN: Evening BBC radio aside, it was hard for a band like us to get on daytime radio or TV in the UK. I think all of our videos were rejected by UK TV. We managed to get one appearance on BBC Saturday Morning show 'Going Live'. Our video for 'Inside Out', which we all hated, was picked up by MTV US and that made a huge difference. That album 'World Without End', I have a clipping from Rolling Stone magazine with the Top 10 College Radio albums and we are number one, Morrissey is number two and Talking Heads "ate" number 3 … I still think it must be a mis-print! Yes, college radio really helped us in America!

PB: Apart from yourself are any of the other members still involved in the music industry?

DN: I think I am the only one stupid enough to have stayed in music !

PB: Wounded Bird, re-released your albums a few years back now. Will there be proper remasters in the future with full bonus tracks and unreleased material or is ‘Uptight’ all we are getting for now?

DN: Wounded Bird is a half-arsed label. They licensed and re-released 'Happy Head' without our knowledge or consent, so when I heard that they planned to re-issue the rest of our catalogue I insisted on getting involved, which turned out to be a lot of work for no pay but whatever.

Then the guy didn’t even remaster the tracks I sent him, so the levels are all over the place. There is some nice bonus/extra material on those releases, but it would be nice to have proper remastered reissues some day. Anyone interested?

PB: Thank you.

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