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Running Order Fanzine (Late 1984)
It’s a brave man who writes about love. Personal embarrassment, ridicule, scorn and disgrace await the unlucky losers – the cynics among us really aren’t very sympathetic to those foolish enough to try, and the haven of a career in political music looks ever more enticing.
Yet the Farmers Boys persist. With the confidence of someone who knows they’ve got it right, they mix genuine feeling with a sense of humour that borders on self-effacement. Anyone who can come on stage, be told to ‘fuck off four-eyes’, and still have the nerve to say ‘look, I’ve had a really bad week’ must be fairly well-balanced.
You just cannot fault the Farmers Boys’ attitude; even those not enamoured with pop music must surely be won over by this unassuming approach which is, in it’s own way, just as radical as any of the pretensions that Punk had on offer. Live shows are where this really pays off, with the banter between stage and audience making you feel as though you’ve known them all your life.
Heineken jokes forgiven, the Farmers Boys deserve to be in the charts- a much needed antidote to the many plain faces who carefully cake themselves in gaudy layers of hype and self-importance. So far though, the search for glory has been fruitless- a little surprising given the backing of a major label, a fair share of attention from DJ’s, and a following that guarantees a placing just outside the Top Forty. At gigs all possible reasons have been considered, ranging from the Miners’ Strike to the banning of one of their records for using the word ‘came’ ( “either that, or it’s a shit record” ). But although this tongue-in-cheek obsession might give the impression of a band willing to sell their souls for a place in the limelight, it’s actually a far cry from the truth.
The Farmers Boys have no masterplan for fame and fortune. Content to let things happen, if anything they are deliberately disorganised with ‘Joy Of Cress’ postcards unlikely to woo the masses. There’s also no attempt to manufacture an image, thus losing the reverence of those desperately searching for a spokesman for their generation and, conversely, those who just want someone to love- the mock adoration being greeted with ‘No, don’t do that, The NME will review those screams’. The shame is that in their search for stereotypes, these people are missing out on an individuality that (despite references to Orange Juice, The Smiths etc. etc.) still belongs unmistakably to the Farmers Boys:
SCENE 1 – THE SALOON BAR
The sound check for a gig at The Savoy, Tuffnell Park is complete. We move downstairs to a dimly-lit table next to the bar – before opening time.
Baz: I don’t think we actually try to project an image as such, unless you call not having an image an image.
But the music alone must have the effect of producing some sort of image.
Baz: If you listen to the first LP, there are so many different styles you can’t pinpoint anything as being definitive. You can’t say we sound like ‘such and such’, because on the next track it will sound like something completely different.
When you first started doing gigs you had a very gentle, almost lighthearted approach.
Baz: Yes, I think so. But when we formed the band, we were basically a din. The first single was a complete change of direction from what we’d been doing before. Everything up to then had been a real thrash; as fast as the drum machine could go, nasty guitars, hideous casios.
How do you think you’ve changed since your early singles?
Baz: Everybody’s just about learned to play their instruments by now.
Your vocals seem to have changed – in the earlier songs you seemed to have a much deeper tone to them.
Baz: It was more of a croon in those days.
Stan: You haven’t consciously changed it, have you? Probably too many fags.
Baz: Perhaps in those days I was trying to do something I’m not doing now.
Some of the recent songs have developed towards a Country and Western sound.
Baz: A lot of the Country stuff is fairly jokey, but they’re really good tunes. ‘Heartache’ was a complete joke, but everyone seems to think it’s serious.
Stan: Everyone gets so worked up as if we should be saying ‘My God, what have we done’? I mean, how can anyone seriously sing those words?
Baz: The only really ‘serious’ country song we’ve done is ‘The Way You Made Me Cry’. Magnificent- the work of a maniac. Then you had all those songs like ‘When I phoned my perfect lover’ and ‘The old truck stopped off at the turnpike’.
Stan: Yeah, they may actually turn up as B-sides one day.
Is there a danger that people may take these songs the wrong way?
Baz: I Think we’re a bit terrified that we may get lumbered with all this hideous Cow-Punk. But I really like Hank Wangford, he’s great. We’re a pop group that play Country and Western songs, but we’re not Cowboys.
You seem to be caught between two fields- going for the chart sound an selling yourselves short, or going for the ‘street credibility’ of a ‘New Wave/Underground’ group.
Stan: I Agree entirely, we are trapped well in-between- it’s always halfway towards both ends. We don’t really have a good success either way.
Baz: It’s because we never pick a direction. Two years ago we could have said we’ll stay an underground, independent band and still be struggling now.
Stan: I think we would have quite happily stayed an independent band if someone had put a lot of money into us, but there was just no independent comany prepared to put faith in us.
Baz: We thought we could get away with continuing to do exactly what we wanted, but on a major label. But I think we got a bit confused by the general music business. We hadn’t come across things like producers and record companies talking about sound units before, and it put a whole new perspective on it.
It’s strange that with a major backing you haven’t made the charts yet.
Baz: This is what I don’t understand, because some of our recent stuff has been extremely commercial, yet it still hasn’t got into the charts. If we’d made something completely unlistenable would it have been equally successful?
Stan: I don’t understand why ‘In The Country’ wasn’t a hit.
Baz: That record was entirely our own idea. The record company didn’t make us do it. It really backfired.
What was the purpose behind it- just to get into the charts?
Baz: No, we just thought the song was wonderful.
Stan: We’d never done a cover version before, but it sounded like the perfect song for us, words and everything. Then everyone said ‘Oh sell-out, doing a cover to get into the charts’.
Getting to No.44, wasn’t there a chance of doing TOTP on that basis?
Baz: We missed it by one place. They played the No.43 record that week. If someone had killed them we would have got on.
But with the backing of three DJ’s, couldn’t you have got on through them?
Baz: No, there are strict rules on how you get on TOTP. It is purely down to your position in the charts- it’s the least corrupt programme on TV. With most of them – mentioning no names – you have to take the producer out three or four nights a week and buy him champagne, and he might be able to get you on his programme.
One record really isn’t that important, but our lukewarm response to ‘In The Country’ must have been obvious and needs defending against a possible charge of ‘Inverted Snobbery’. It may be a great song to do live, but all the ‘fun’ of the occasion is lost on the transfer to vinyl. Also (although the Farmers Boys didn’t intend it that way) people do expect a single to be something of a showpiece for a band at its best. ‘In The Country’ wasn’t this, although – without the benefit of the punch line – people can easily be led into believing it is. The idea of a ‘poppy’ band on EMI doing Cliff covers is more than enough for most people to switch off- a complete transformation from the respect offered to an independent band with two Festive Fifty places to its name. Perhaps people can’t be blamed for making assumptions, or we might still be spending all day listening to Capital Radio, but the Farmers Boys deserve a closer look.
Nobody batted an eyelid when The Redskins signed to Decca, so why the Farmers Boys on EMI?
Baz: Well they’ve got a pretty bad image, which is something we didn’t realise when we signed to them. Everybody seems to hate EMI. whereas nobody hates Phonogram or Virgin. I think that fact is against us as far as being trendy goes.
How do they treat you?
Baz: Basically they give you a free run. I mean they’ve never sent us away to do something again.
Stan: We’ve just gone straight into the studio. We haven’t even played them the songs we’re going to record sometimes. We’ve just gone in and recorded them, then presented it to them and they have to release it.
Baz: They spend £10,000 on a studio and we go in there and record something like ‘Mama Never Told Me’! The joke’s on them really.
Isn’t that a disadvantage as well, because it suggests that they’re really not that committed?
Baz: It would be nice to have someone there to guide you and tell you what you’re doing wrong, or even tell you what you’re doing right, but they don’t.
Stan: We’re still doing everything ourselves. We still haven’t got a manager which makes things increasingly difficult in these situations. The record company says ‘Yes, that’s OK’, and we think it’s OK, but we’ve never got anyone to guide us in a direction.
In the full knowledge that you really can’t overdo romance, the Farmers Boys try to do exactly that. An undercurrent of humour runs through all their songs, ranging from some often deliberately over the top lyrics to the occasional cliched one-liners on the keyboards. But while the music raises a smile, there’s also the hint of a shameless truth lurking somewhere in the background.
The songs are (of course) about TRUE love; Baz’s vocals plead honesty, sincerity and a broken heart, and it’s only the ‘Oh Darlin’s’ that finally give the game away. Matters aren’t helped by the sight of flaying arms waving beer glasses right under his nose just as we get to the most heart-rendering bits. But if your suspicions are aroused, then it’s best to put them to one side, enjoy yourself, and worry about the consequences later.
The Farmers Boys music is not something you can pin down easily, but although modestly they’ll make no claims beyond the ability to write catchy pop songs, you can’t help feeling that there’s a bit more to them than this:
Who is involved in the songwriting?
Stan: Well, as you’re all playing on it, you all have to perform your bit; unless one person tells everyone exactly what to play then in theory you do all write it anyway. Someone comes up with a tune and someone adds to it and you build it up that way.
Baz: Then the day we record it I have to write some words. I always leave it right until the very last moment. On the first single ‘I Think I Need Help’ I wrote the words in the pub at lunchtime- half of it had already been recorded. There’s a sort of tension in the words if you’ve got to write them in ten minutes.
Stan: It’s like the sessions, we often go in with fresh songs but no words.
Baz: The only time I came unstuck was with ‘The Wailing Wall’ when I just couldn’t think of anything at all to write.
You seem to be putting down your lyrics a bit?
Baz: I don’t know what to think about them, it’s difficult to be objective.
But the fact that the words come out very clearly means you can’t afford to write rubbish.
Baz: Yeah- Ah, right! You know we were talking about the vocal style earlier on – well when we first started, 50% of the songs in the set didn’t actually have any words. So that’s why I started crooning, sort of linking words together so you couldn’t actually understand what I was singing. That’s why I used to sing like that because half the time I didn’t have any words. It was the advent of the words that got me – the clearer singing came with them.
You did write all the words down on the LP though.
Baz: Yeah, that was stupid because you could understand them anyway.
Stan: I think we tried to package things so it looked like a real LP.
Baz: It gives you something to read- takes your mind off the music!
Do you regard the music as pure entertainment?
Stan: People can take the records how they like as long as they enjoy themselves. It would be nice to imagine other people doing our songs.
Baz: There’s no real message in the songs.
But there’s a big difference between what you’re doing and what, say, Wham are doing- even though they would say it’s entertainment in the same way that you would.
Baz: Yeah. I think there’s a difference in that theirs is entertainment as a marketable money-making product. The fact is that those singles and the LP that is about to come out were recorded last year. The whole thing’s been carefully planned.
This is something people tend to miss when dismissing Pop music en masse; groups like the Farmers Boys can make their songs just as heart-felt as the more classically structured music. Bad pop appears when a staid formula is used without any attempt at originality and with sights firmly set on the cash register.
The Farmers Boys may not have a message as such (though they do seem to have a few simple philosophies), but there’s a neutrality about the music that allows you to enjoy yourself without feeling manipulated or ripped off. While there’s no attempt to introduce political comment into their style of music (rightly so), there is equally none of the TOTP mentality which tries to pretend that everything is wonderful.
It was at this point that we had the unique experience of being asked to leave the bar BEFORE it had opened. We took refuge on the stairs. The distortion on the tape can be attributed to the heavy breathing of the barman’s dog and not to Stan’s exertions in climbing the stairs.
SCENE 2 – THE STAIRS
Do you think you’ve got more principles than those bands who just want to get in the charts?
Stan: I don’t know what other peoples aspirations are. We don’t mix much with other bands. We tend to keep ourselves to ourselves.
Baz: The people you tend to come across are usually in hotels or recoding studios. You meet no end of bands who you’ve never heard of or just about heard of or are recently signed to a record company. I don’t see why these bands have to put on all their stage gear and their make-up just to go into the rehearsal studio. And when they’re recording they spend the best part of the morning doing their hair just to sing into a microphone- it’s bizarre.
What level of sales have the singles reached?
Baz: ‘In The Country’ and ‘Muck It Out’ sold 30,000 each which is normally enough to put you in the Top Forty, but our records aren’t hyped.
The last two singles have had gimmicks included. Isn’t this distractive rather than beneficial to the promotion of the record?
Baz: Well, the bland postcard with ‘In The Country’ got more publicity and attention than the record. So we thought we’d do something else daft and get some more attention, and it’s happened again. People have made more fuss about the competition than about the record. We’ve got to get it noticed somehow.
You’ve used videos to promote the recent singles- what’s your attitude to these?
Baz: The new one is hideous. It’s another case of EMI spending £3,000 and we come up with THIS- three minutes of pulling stupid faces.
Stan: With the latest video we went in there with out own ideas and came out with something WE wanted to do. Why should we go in there and do something we hated doing and which might have been shown, but we’d really feel embarrassed about. So we did something which probably won’t be shown but which we like. I don’t think they’d seen anything like it!
Who gets the videos?
Baz: They’re sent off to all the TV stations, and they try to palm them off onto video juke boxes. The record company goes to all the TV producers and say to them: ‘We’ll give you an exclusive on the new Queen video if you show this rubbish’.
What about other promotional merchandise like badges and T-Shirts?
Baz: I can’t really get excited about badges and T-Shirts and that sort of thing. Suddenly you get all these bands in Norwich who do two gigs and then start making their own T-Shirts and posters and backdrops. What’s the point? Time would be better spent learning to play the guitar. Theoretically the music should be the advertising media, not a T-Shirt or hairstyle.
What do you think of the audiences you get?
Stan: I don’t know if they’re roughly the same or not.
Baz: They seem to have goy a lot more barmy over the last couple of years. When we first started you got the Joey contingent.
Baz: The Adidas bag draped round the neck and anorak gang. Now people seem to stand at the front and smack into one another. It’s the chicken-dancing crew these days – the TinTins.
You hardly did any gigs in 1984.
Stan: We haven’t had many outlets worth gigging for.
Baz: Also we put on such a level of performance last year in terms of expenditure on PA and lights that for most of this year we wouldn’t have been able to command the same amount of money at gigs, so it would have meant going out with a lesser show. It doesn’t seem right that someone should see you at a gig a year ago and say ‘Yeah, great show’ and then see you a year later and you’ve got someone holding a couple of torches.
So what have you spent your time doing?
Stan: We seem to have been really busy this year.
Baz: Well not really. We’ve been occupied, but I’d say this year has been like one long holiday. We’ve only done band activities two days a week, which doesn’t exactly require a lot of effort. I mean I have spent a lot of this year fishing.
What do you see as the band’s future? Would you be happy if you ended up playing in the corner of the local pub?
Baz: I’ve always wanted to be a singer. I don’t know how bothered I am where I sing- whether it be up on stage or in the bath…
Stan: We’d still be able to put out records for a time.
Wouldn’t you still be able to fall back on somewhere like Rough Trade?
Baz: Backs didn’t want to let us go. We weren’t that keen on moving to a major label, but Backs hadn’t got any money and nor had we. Backs went to Rough Trade and said: ‘Will you finance the Farmers Boys LP’, RT said no.
Stan: RT never took us seriously in the first place. They just used to laugh even though we were selling twice as many records as most of their acts.
What were you hoping to get from EMI?
Baz: Well we were hoping to get enough money for four nose jobs, and frog wanted an ear job as well…
In the ruthless crush of the music business, the Farmers Boys really are a little too modest for their own good. Unwilling to put their music on any sort of pedestal it’s hard to squeeze any clues out of them. Perhaps the Farmers Boys are not ones for statements of intent, but their general attitude is there for all to see and in this there can be few reservations.
It has to be said that some of the newer material has been very worrying, but, whatever the outcome, they will continue to provide people with many an enjoyable night out and leave behind a collection of records that most bands would be only too happy to achieve.
INTERVIEW: Peter Wood, Richard Coulthard and Kevyn.
WORDS: Peter Wood and Richard Coulthard.
PICS: Peter Wood.