pete bassman interview

(March 2001)

Life's a motorway according to Alphastone. It's the title of their recent album for Enraptured and the bitter observation of Pete Bassman, founder of the band and former member of Spaceman 3 and The Darkside. The Alphastone history at their web site (www.alphastone.co.uk) starts with The Darkside, and doesn't pull any punches:

The Darkside was not really me, sure I was a member of the band and wrote all the lyrics and a large proportion of the music, but I felt little empathy with the other members. I felt like my direction as a musician was compromised. That band taught me some hard lessons. It was the first and last time I was signed to a major label, a great opportunity thrown away. Every member was guilty in their own way of dragging it down; egos, squabbles and fragmentation until the band didn't so much split up as fade away. When I telephoned the label to tell them the group had finished and maybe they would want to do a press release I was told it was not worth it, nobody was interested.

Life's a motorway. Particularly when you're in the slow lane..

(This is the full transcript of Pete's interview for the Where Did It All Go Wrong? feature. There's an Alphastone interview here.)

What are your first musical memories?

My mom had a Dansette record player but not that many records. She had a Beatles one and a bit of Motown stuff but that's all.

When did you start listening "seriously" to music?

I've always had the same kind of appetite for music. Seeing The Sweet on Top Of The Pops was the first time I understand what it was all about. I started buying records at a really early age, anything from Slade and Mud to the Bay City Rollers. The first serious stuff I bought was Bowie: Ziggy Stardust. Bowie was my first infatuation, at age 11, I suppose. From Bowie it was punk. I was seriously into punk as a kid, and I discovered the independent side early on. I've got all the Alternative TV singles, early Fall singles, Stiff Little Fingers on Rough Trade, The Stranglers, The Adverts, Public Image. Then 2-Tone and Mod stuff. Then Spaceman 3.

 

Alphastone single sleeve

Did you read the press?

Yeah, I started buying the press when I was at school. It was a choice between Record Mirror, which was quite a mainstream paper with a poster in the middle, Sounds, Melody Maker and NME. Melody Maker was more of a serious publication, broader than rock'n'roll but I never bought it at that time. I alternated between Sounds and NME.

Was there a tribal NME/MM thing between you and your mates?

We didn't have any concept of that at all. I lived in a very small village so what we got hold of was whatever filtered through. There were only about three of us in the school who knew what punk rock was. One kid's older brother was into The Jam and we'd hear about bands and records from him. My taste in music was governed by my environment.

Did you listen to the radio?

John Peel. The first time I heard John Peel he said "I was compering at this festival and they pelted me with mud.. but everybody has their problems." Then he put Problems by the Sex Pistols on. I didn't like a lot of what he played - a mixture of rock and punk - but I did listen to him for a good few years from '79. We found that we could listen to him on the World Service during our dinner hour and my friend used to tape it so we'd go round his house at dinner time and listen to that.

When did you start doing your own thing?

I was in a band before Spacemen where I tried playing drums. I used to practice in the shed until some old biddy thought she was being bombed like in the war and complained. My mom just sold the drums without telling me - I came home and there was a pile of tenners on the table. It was just fooling around, completely incompetent and musically worthless.

When we first started Spacemen there were a lot of quality fanzines like Next Big Thing, Bucketful of Brains and Zig Zag and there was a good network, a lot of people writing about whatever music turned them on. There was a golden period of time for zines and they were a fantastic way to create a buzz in the underground. That was the springboard for Spaceman 3.

When did you become disillusioned with what the music media was offering you?

There was a turning point. I think Spaceman were at a time when a lot of stuff was changing. First, the economic situation of this country and the whole of Europe was changing dramatically. From the time that Spacemen started touring we noticed that everything seemed to be getting more austere. Second, the press. Spaceman had a lot of good press, plenty of features.

 

Alphastone LP sleeve

It was different with The Darkside. I think the press had got to a point where they knew that they could mould what people listen to, they could influence them very directly. Sometimes we'd play bad gigs and get great reviews and sometimes we'd play great gigs and get terrible reviews, and we couldn't understand it. But we were the kind of band that you could pick on quite easily because we weren't bothered about trying to be mainstream. In fact, we felt awful about it, and it felt like the wrong thing to do, going from Spaceman 3 who'd always existed as a non-conformist band to The Darkside which was propelled into the spotlight. Some of the reviewers just trashed us without any thought and showed themselves to be shallow and not particularly good writers.

They were doing it all the time: knocking a band down, building a band up, it all depended on who they liked that particular week. They were playing God. But NME, for example, could be entertaining and factual. Look back to the late 70s, Joy Division period, there was a lot of intellectual stuff, it was very dense and coming from a much weightier angle.

Why do you think people have moved on from the weeklies over the last few years?

I think that people eventually were fed up. When people follow something, and like something, they don't like to be told that what they're listening to is shit. I find that really insulting sometimes, when I listen to a record and really enjoy it and then a journalist tells me that it's crap.

I think people generally follow something with a lot of fervour. This is what British music has been about since the 1950s - youth movements and collective consciousness, about people moving en masse. Like the huge Manchester thing, y'know? The press do help to build these things up but when they're bored of them, they just pull them down and leave people feeling "well, if that's not the big thing, what is the big thing?" That bred a kind of insecurity and people didn't trust the press any longer.

I stopped reading the press because I was sick of trying to read interviews that were just non-interviews. Loads and loads of text by the guy who was writing it and a little bit by the people he's interviewing. It didn't leave you any more enlightened about the artist.

Do you think the decline of the music press is part of a wider cultural change?

It's never been explained to people why the press has been disappearing. There's a larger question to be asked: what's been happening to the music industry as a whole? Why hasn't the music business ever been regulated in the way that an engineering firm is regulated? If you work in the music business, why can't you have a union representative? Why can't you have holiday pay?

Being in a band and getting signed up, you're possibly in the worst working conditions you could ever be in. If you get a 9-5 job, at least you know when you're going home, if you get sick you know you're going to get paid for it, you get holiday pay and all the other benefits. And when people start victimising you, you've got somewhere to go to get redress.

It was frightening as a kid. I was very insecure, having a council house and rent to pay, and you're like that when you're young - worrying about having no money and nowhere to live. I was quite insecure during Spaceman. Spaceman were terrible at sorting out money and making sure that everyone had a fair split and that was one of the reasons I left. The Darkside was a lot more money but a lot more money was embezzled and stolen. The split between the members was unfair too. I began to resent the fact that I wasn't getting paid for writing any songs, so I stopped writing songs for the band.

Also, when it's all over you go from earning.. well, in The Darkside we never really earned much more than 100 a week, but that was at a time when The Stone Roses were getting about 60 a week from Silvertone. But you go from that to the dole and once people shut the doors in the music industry they never open again. It's funny how people will talk to you one week and then not talk to you the next week. That's what made me cynical about doing this again.

Record companies are stupid. They just hoover up cocaine and spend money like fools. We had a bit of that in Alphastone 'cos we'd been asked to go to Chrysalis to talk about publishing so we got our hopes up really high. The guy put out some really confusing signals - he said that he liked us and really wanted to see us but at the same time he'd put us on hold for weeks on end and kept saying the same things. We got to the point where we thought he was trying to let us down, but why couldn't he just tell us? And we had some interest from Interscope, they were all over us like a rash and then next minute they couldn't do anything for us.

It got to the point where I thought that if someone comes up to us after a gig and says "hey guys, great gig, do you fancy signing a contract?" I'd probably just say "not really." [laughs out loud] I'd be really defensive and I'm not sure how I could deal with any speculative interest.

How is Alphastone's press coverage?

We're a bit insular - we live in Rugby which isn't the best place in the world to communicate from. We've also been on a borderline of.. whether we want to get back into the music business or whether we don't. We always keep the band together because we really enjoy it and say that if something happens then we'll go with it. But as time goes on it's looking more and more unlikely that that's going to happen. We're not really a working band, we just release our records and hope that something is going to spark.

We'd never expect to be reviewed in Q and Select and their like because we'd be competing with the mainstream. The mainstream is very much set up to, not exactly keep people like us out, but we're just not in those channels; a small band on a small label like Enraptured, against the Manic Street Preachers? I mean there's some much demand from the majors to fill the paper up with their bands and their adverts, their plugs, their reviews.

Nowadays, you can be independent of the music industry if you want to. You can set your own web site up as my friend Will Carruthers has just done. He's done a very good album and done a web site to sell it. I think that's great. It's bypassing everybody who could possibly do you harm and going direct to the people who want it.

Pete is interviewed about Alphastone here.


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