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In the Lands of Scotland : Davy Henderson

Davy Henderson

Dans les Terres d’Ecosse (In the Lands of Scotland) will be a series of interviews with Scottish musicians that I like – as I’m a bit lazy, the rhythm of publication will be a bit random. I have lived in Scotland for seven years, time to care a little bit about my surroundings. There will be no link with current events and news stories, well, as little as possible anyway. For the first one, I met up with Davy Henderson in an art gallery in Edinburgh.

Davy Henderson is a forgotten jewel, singer-songwriter in loads of bands each one more cult than the last: The Fire Engines, legendary post-punk quintet, the flashy Win, whose commercial fortune was inversely proportional to their innate brilliance, The Nectarine N°9, seasoned artisans of an uncompromising rock’n’roll, and finally The Sexual Objects, confidential project but always supported by precious collaborators like Boards of Canada (producers of the single Here Come The Rubber Cops) or Vic Goddard (TSO always open for him north of the border). Anyway! Artistically, it is a sans-faute.

I wanted to start with you because I interviewed Lawrence from Felt and Go-Kart Mozart, and it’s thanks to him that I know your stuff.

Right.

And actually we may have met once. Because in 2012, he came to Edinburgh as he was touring with his movie, and before the projection, he came to my flat for an interview. And when I interviewed him again for an interview like in December last year, he said to me « was it your flat I went to? Because I remember that day, because after the movie, Davy Henderson came to say hi, and he was someone really important to me ».

Haha, that’s nice. Actually, I’m playing some records tonight up at Summerhall. I was almost bringing « Spunky Axe »… I was gonna bring that, but I didn’t, man! He’s got another record out, hasn’t he?

Yeah, it’s called Mozart’s Mini-Mart.

Yeah, I’ve seen the artwork, and I’ve seen the single When You’re Depressed, but I’ve not checked it out too much, cause in case I start ripping it off, cause I’ve started making stuff again, well I’ve not stopped, but I’ve really started concentrating on making up new stuff, so I think it’s always pretty good to avoid the things that you like when you’re making things up, especially new things by folk you really really like…

But it’s funny you’re saying that, because, of course, I discovered Win because he mentioned in his Felt book Uh! Tears Baby as his favorite record of 1988 or 1987, whatever year it came out.

86.

86? You think so? I thought it was 87.

It might be, I can’t remember.

It was probably made in 86 anyway…

Yeah, and 85…

But anyway, I was saying that when Lawrence started, after Felt, to go off on a tangent, he was doing something a little bit like Win. You know, in aiming at a sort of perversion of the pop system from within.

Yeah, but he was always quite hooky anyway? But I know what you’re saying, a little bit less guitar orientated.

Yeah, but also aiming at a very slick sound… But anyway, I thought you were not promoting anything in particular, but I’ve just seen that you’re actually going to play with the Fire Engines, as part of the Edinburgh Festival this summer, is that right?

Yes, it’s pretty hilarious really. It’s the actual International Festival, which is just pretty bizarre, you know, especially being in Leith, cause the first gig we ever played was in a community centre in Leith, in Leith Community Centre, behind the Kirkgate in 1980. And 38 years later we’re in the actual Edinburgh International Festival, man…

So you’ve made it.

We’ve made it! But also, do you know Lydia Lunch?

Yes, of course.

She’s playing that night as well. We always loved Lydia, and the Contortions, a lot of the No New York album, we used to listen to that a lot. Like, all the time, really.

So is that some sort of a reunion then?

The Fire Engines? No, no, we don’t reunite, we’re splitting together again!

Haha, alright.

I hate that word, « reunion ». We’ve done it a couple of times, we’ve played about 4 or 5 times over the last 15 years. We were asked to play in 2004, that’s the first time we played together again, we were asked to play with the Magic Band, that we totally love. Beefheart of course wasn’t in the band. But it was John ‘Drumbo’ French, Gary Lucas, Danny Walley, it was a great band, it was a great band. But it was really difficult to say yes to the Fire Engines. It was really « oh man! Why are you asking that? » But you know, it was the promoters, the All Tomorrow Parties guys who were promoting some gigs  in Edinburgh and they wanted the Fire Engines to do it. And it was the Magic Band! How can you say no to the Magic Band? And two of the guys that were in the Fire Engines have never played in other bands. You know, one’s an architect and one’s a taxi driver. So it would have been pretty horrible to say no, we’re not doing it, I’ve got a career, we’re splitting together again… We’re still really close friends, you know? It would have been quite churlish to deny them to hang about with the Magic Band just so I could.

But was it just the Fire Engines or nothing at all?

I think so. But then they were a couple of other gigs. We were asked to play with Arkestra, you know. But without Sun Ra. So no Beefheart, no Sun Ra! But that was just wow, you know? So it’s just special events, it’s not like getting back together to make new records, to make a career out of being old, you know what I mean?

But you know, ‘reunion’ in French, it just means a meeting.

I like that!

But how does it feel for you because you know, in your career, the Fire Engines is still the main thing that defines you.

That’s why I was a bit resistant to do that, because it really impacts on everything else. It sort of overshadows everything else which is just the way it works, and I’m very conscious of that. But at the same time, as much as I don’t like doing that, it’s pretty good fun, seeing your friends playing with Lydia Lunch, and Michael Rother, man!! But there’s just no way I would do it, you know, do a tour. I mean, loads of band are doing it now! The only person that is not doing it is Lawrence actually.

Well, he’s touring at the moment.

Yeah, but with Go-Kart Mozart. He would never do that with Felt or Denim.

Yeah… though he brags about how much money he could get to do that…

Hahaha!

But are you offered a lot money to do that?

Oh no… Certainly not as much as Lawrence! Absolutely not. But it’s more than the Sexual Objects.

But with the Sexual Objects, do you tour or have a career?

Well, with the Sexual Objects, we just sort of exist, year to year, we just do what we can… It costs too much to do just one or two gigs. Well it costs too much money, and I don’t have a day job or anything like that. I’m a seasonal worker. Like an itinerant. I come in Edinburgh every summer to work. I’m walking to town, thirty miles every morning, I leave my house at 3am (smiles). It feels like that sometimes.

Drawing by Maxim Cain

What do you do to make a living then?

Whatever. Just some sort of laboring work, you know, manual work. (He shows me his hands) They’re fucked! Look at these hands! These hands are fucked, man!! (Shows his fingers) From here to here to here to here. I can hardly move that cup of coffee.

So you’ve been doing that on and off throughout your career?

Hem.. Not really…

Cause with Nectarine No. 9 for example you had a proper…

Yes, but then the world changed. The Nectarine No. 9 was the last time we got a proper, you know, an old fashioned record deal. You know, when you get an advance. That doesn’t exist anymore for people who operate on the margins. And then I had children and during that actual time the world changed completely, the digital world started blossoming.

When was the last album of Nectarine No. 9? 2003, 2004?

Yes, I Love Total Destruction, around that time…

But were you able to sustain a normal living just with the band?

I can’t even remember, it was that long ago… It seems really recent, but it’s like over a decade ago. I suppose things were easier back then, things were not as complicated. There were not as many children, not as many lives in the way. Priorities were different, which is unfortunate (smiles)… if you want to be in a band. If you want to make things up, unless you’re willing to neglect your priorities.

So basically, what you’re saying, is that at the end of Nectarine No. 9, you find yourself in a world that doesn’t enable acts like you to sustain a career.

I wouldn’t even call that a career, I don’t even like that word, it’s sort of too grown up for a start. But we could work, sustain the band, make things up. but then, they were different priorities as well.

These sort of things are very rarely talked about… How do people that don’t have success can sustain themselves…

Child benefits…

But even people without children, we were speaking about Lawrence for example, and he was in the streets at some point. And nowhere does it says that.

Have you spoken to him recently?

Yes, he is alright now.

Do you know if he still lives in that flat? The flat in London, which was the address in the film?

I don’t know, I think so.

Cause I’ve been meaning to send some vinyl things for like two years, and I still haven’t done it.

Send them to Cherry Red, they will pass that along.

Yes, I know someone at Cherry Red, I could just ask them.

So, let’s go back to the Fire Engines. So when you started that band… How old are you?

I’m 57.

So you were still a teenager when you started that band.

I was 18.

You were always around Edinburgh?

Yeah, we grew up in Clermiston, you know, behind the zoo. And there’s a big housing estate there, and we all grew up there originally, but we didn’t know each other. Well, I didn’t. I went to school with the guitar player Murray, and the bass player and drummer, Graham and Rusty, they stayed virtually in the same street, so they stayed with the same friends and all that. But we met up in 78, we sort of became friends then and we started sharing flats. And we became a family unit. Interdependent family unit.

And straight away you started to play music together.

I wouldn’t say play, I don’t know if that is accurate to say that… But we were attempting as we’ve done throughout our entire existence with the Fire Engines, it was an attempt to start playing music.

And were you studying at the time?

Me? Studying? No. I used to work when I left school, I was an apprentice. I was joiner. Like a carpenter. But Murray, the guitar player, he was studying and he eventually became an architect… And we all had some sort of jobs that we left to see if we could exist listening to Lydia Lunch records for 24 hours a day.

It’s funny because, I don’t now how I got this misconception, but reading things like Rip It Up and Start Again by Simon Reynolds, there’s a few pages about the Fire Engines, and because you were associated with these very litterary bands like Josef K, you didn’t really come off as working class. You always seemed really arty in a way.

Right, well we were, the things that we loved as children were a portal into that. Like David Bowie for instance. David Bowie introduced his fans, his young teenage fans and younger fans to Andy Warhol, and to William Burroughs. I mean, who does that now? I mean back then, that was an incredible portal for a teenager or even younger than teenage, to be exposed to people like Burroughs through the cut-up technique of your favorite singer, who was a massive massive star. It was opening up… I mean, I’ve got Aladdin Sane in my bag at the moment, and you listen to that, the piano solo in that, the sort of crazy Debussy-esque abstract pianos in that, this is a pop star at the total height of his career. In teenage-70s land, showing his teenage fans this super-abstract music that he’s incorporated into these pop record, so you were exposed to that. And TV was fantastic as well, I mean it seemed like you were exposed to a lot of art and literature via TV. There were only 4 channels, so there were great films on. They were French films on, man! On the TV! On terrestrial telly! In Scotland, in Britain! We used to watch French movies, man! I mean, I still do… And anything was subtitled. I mean it was a different. And also, because of the nature, the geography of the locals that we hung out, i.e. the art college, the bars, the flats, the houses, the spaces we used to hang out in at weekends were really close to the art college, etc. And also, we could read. We were told to read at an early age. The working class could read, man! And we liked French movies! Even Italian ones. And Spanish ones. And American ones. We still love John Wayne!

I didn’t mean to put them in opposition, working class and arty people.

No, I know, I know exactly what you’re saying. But you were exposed to a lot of things that people call culture, which wasn’t a commodity back then, and that was a word that wasn’t really in common currency.

I think that the divide in class has been accentuated has well now.

Absolutely, well it was destroyed by the Thatcher revolution. This was the fruits of teenage Xanax addiction.

David Bowie with William Burroughs in February 28, 1974.

And you think it directly reflected a change in pop culture, cause basically, Bowie is the ultimate pervasion of the system from within, and exposing the younger generation or the masses to things like Burroughs or radical ideas…

Or at least things that seemed forbidden.

Right, things very subversive, but do you think this kind of things stopped after the 80s?

He didn’t influence me that much after the 80s. I don’t think he made a lot.. I really love him, I love the memories of listening to those records when I was ten or eleven years old, and the places you were taken to. Then there was the things he was doing in Germany, especially the three albums that I consider to be really important, which are The Idiot, Lust For Life and Low, and a wee bit of Heroes, but after that, to me, the magnets are not working man. But I would never down him. There was a lot of pioneering. I also really like the way he done things with Iggy and how he took elements from The Stooges, like the repetition, and to create two albums and used these sort of extended riffs but made extremely fantastic records from ideas. To be able to execute that in such a short period of time as well! If you think about how long it takes to make a record now, it’s crazy, you know what I mean, its fucking insane! It’s mad how long it actually takes. But I suppose Iggy and David didn’t have their children with them in Berlin, you know what I mean, so they weren’t at home babysitting…

Yeah, and they had less financial constraints.

Absolutely.

It’s funny, you seems really fascinated by your idols, cause you made a few songs with The Sexual Objects that are named after people, like Ron Asheton.

But that’s just, well it’s not just, it’s a good technique, when you’re stuck for a title. It’s good to put one of your favorite influences there. And of course, it’s all over Hunky Dory, so that’s a stolen idea. Or it’s elaborated on. It’s an elaboration, Victor!

I was listening to the song Shadows of a Jet Plane on Marshmallow, do you mention Judee Sill at some point, aren’t you?

Yeah, Judee Sill is mentioned… My middle brother is like seven years older than me, and I used to surreptitiously listen to his records. I wasn’t supposed to listen to them, they were forbidden, cause he was like seventeen, I was like ten. We shared a room, and he had all his records, one of them being Hunky Dory. And he had a Judee Sill album.

In the early seventies?! I thought she hadn’t sold any…

Yeah, he got it when she made them, the first one. I just thought that nobody ever ever had heard of her. She was kind of my secret. Cause she was pretty obscure and then she died. I knew people had heard of her, but I hadn’t realized that there was quite recently…

It’s like that for a few singers, I interviewed Vashti Bunyan last year, and nobody knew her until early 00s… I’m sure Judee Sill would have had a similar kind of fate.

I know, I thought she was pretty special… And when you’re listening to songs like Crayon Angels or The Lamb Ran Away with the Crown, they’re really beautiful, they’re really complete, and all that innocence that is expressed in them, you don’t understand that there’s a sort of darker side when you’re that age. You just see the imaginary aspects, and the illustrative ones… She had a horrible existence. She wasn’t too happy, even when she was making the records, pretty astonishing records, pretty special-sounding records. And her voice is pretty special. So I always thought she really belonged to me, I didn’t realize that every single person in a band that was under forty was into Judee Sill massively.

But to come back to Iggy, I always thought you sounded a lot like Iggy on Saint Jack for example.

Right…

Like, on the first track, when you start to sing, you’re turning on something in your voice, like the Iggy-filter or something…

Haha! I like that, man… I’ve got lot of filters that I keep.

But I think, that your voice, it’s like you’re putting on an act every time. And I don’t mean it in a negative way.

I know! It’s performing. Basically. You’re trying to find something that will work, and it takes a lot of endaveour and hair-tearing… It’s not easy to make something up. That’s happening for me, again, cause I’ve started to make things up again, as in sitting down with tape recorders as opposed to messing around, really sitting down and starting to write. But it’s not easy, it’s like aggressively manipulating motifs and trying to manipulate them into sonic objects that you will love. And you’re always looking for something to hang on to. But in regards to singing, you’re always sort of performing, you have to. You find that you’re acting. You’re playing.

But it’s funny because, in pop music, it’s a lot about authenticity, and there’s a tension there, between a performing persona… For I feel that there are a few.

Several filters?

Yeah, Davy Henderson from the Fire Engines, the topless young post-punk guy, and the goofy pop star from Win, and the darker side in Nectarine N°9, there are several personas… Was it conscious?

It’s always difficult, cause it’s not easy to make music up. It’s not natural. But the most difficult, out of the things you just mentioned, was to be in Win… oh man, that was hard work.

So how do this happen? Cause you stopped the Fire Engines in 1982 or something?

The last day of 1981. Then I sort of messed around for a while, and decided to try to get a record deal, as a kind of joke. Cause everybody else seemed to be doing it, getting record deals from labels.

But you had been on TV with the Fire Engines, so it’s not like you were unknown. And the period has been documented a lot as well, from what you read, you know there was this kind of things between Bob Last and Alan Horne that were both wanting to sign you, etc…

Well, that’s just… It’s weird that it takes on some small myth… I just find it really bizarre. Because it was just pretty comical, you know what I mean. It’s like being in the International Festival, and you know, our guitars are gonna be in the National Museum this summer.

You know, on that, I’m convinced they stole the idea from my wife… Cause when she was a student, one of her teacher was the exhibition designer for the Museum. And one of the project was to design an exhibition for the Museum, and they could choose the subject, and she chose pop and independent music from Scotland. And there were everybody, Orange Juice, The Fire Engines… So I’m convinced they took her idea. But anyway, your guitar is going to be in the Museum this summer.

I know, it’s just really, I don’t know, it’s bizarre… These institutions that you were looking at when you were a child. The Museum used to be this brillant place, free to get into, almost every saturday I would go cause my grandmother stayed nearby. And also when you got older as teenager hanging out in there looking at girls etc, and then suddenly you start to…

Is there a feeling of achievement?

It’s just bizarre. There’s a sense of incredulity. Also the fact we’re doing the Festival… That’s ridiculous as well.

So anyway, you’re in the Fire Engines, you split on the last day of 81 and then what happens, you’re looking for a record deal?

No, months went by doing other things and sort of messing around with other bands, then I decided, I asked Russell from the Fire Engines if he wanted to start a band, and he had started one with another guy, Ian Stoddart, so we decided to start a band together and try to write pop songs. And let’s see if we can get a record deal… as joke really. It was like, everybody else is trying, let’s just see if we can get one. So anyway, we sent tapes off to a couple of label and Alan Horne happened to be working for London records and he overhead this tape from another office and he got in touch.

What was the song?

Probably UnAmerican Broadcast… There were a few songs on it. And then we got a record deal. And we got wages.

But was it big? Like, life-changing?

It was a major label deal. It was enough to pay a wage, record for a year or so, in studios all over London. But it was a massive waste, a total waste of money. It was really wasted. Cause we didn’t really know what we were doing. Once we got the record deal, we didn’t know how to operate in a recording studio, you know, we didn’t know how to get the sound we wanted to get…

But was it really your job?

Well, we would have liked to have more influence on the sound of the record, but because we didn’t know how to do it and it was quite a serious situation, because it was a major label, we had to rely on the producer really…

Who was the producer?

It was a guy called David Motion, who produced Strawberry Switchblade, do you know Strawberry Switchblade?

Oh yeah, I love them… Do you know them? I’d love to get in touch with them actually…

Well, Rose is around!

Oh, I’d love to talk to her.

She’s in Edinburgh I think… I met her last year, during the festival, I don’t know what she’s doing. I could get in touch with Innes. Innes is an old friend, he’s a music journalist, or he was, and he’s still around doing stuff. And Rose was staying at his place down in Abbeyhill.

She sang on a Felt record…

(Rolling his eyes) Ah, right…

So anyway, the Win albums are brilliant and it’s a little shock for me to hear you didn’t know what you were doing.

No, I mean the songs were there. Writing the songs was… We worked really hard. It was like, twelve hours a day writing. So it was more trying to establish or find the sound that we’d imagine. But it was very difficult to operate in a studio in three weeks and create a record without the massive influence of the producer to be the thrust behind and make sure stuff got done. So it was more his palette, his sonic palette was on the record a lot more than… But listen, the songs were all there.

Because I thought, when I discovered the Win albums I thought of them like is almost a kind of Scritti Politti-type of approach, you see what I mean, someone who took a conscious decision to take over the charts, and to sort of deconstruct the idea of pop music in a way.

I mean that was definitely within the songs, and all the melodies were there. But we wanted to be a lot… not rougher but a lot edgier. I mean for instance, the record we loved at that time was Stormy Weather by Fats Comet, do you know that?

Who?

The Fats Comets.

Never heard of it.

It’s Adrian Sherwood basically.

Right…

And it’s the guys in The Sugarhill Gang basically, Skip McDonald, Doug Wimbish…

Oh right, OK.

I mean we were blown away by that record. And Prince as well. It was really clean, the record, and we wanted it to be a bit sort of saturated. It’s got all that really evangelical vibe to it. But anyway, that’s by the by. I think the second record, we really got hold of the producer, we would not let things go.

But they’re quite similar the two albums, in the ideas. That’s what I’m saying, even from the name, Win, it’s a joke, and the sheer amount of la-la-las or ouh-ouh-ouh in the songs, it’s playing with the idea of pop, it’s just so funny.

Well, the name itself, apart from the Bowie song Win, « all you’ve got to do is win », the tabloids paper had just started to introduce bingo, we had sort of bingo card on each copy that you could buy from newsagents, and every single tabloid newspaper had the word Win on it. Everyday. And we thought, that’s free advertisement, if people start connecting, if we do start to become popular or chart. But it never happened.

And if you’d fast-forward twenty years later, it’s one of these names that is ungooglable… But, at the same time, Win, that name, it’s a play on the ultimate pop aim as well. But I mean, you had a political edge as well in a way, no?

Hem… We were involved in some kind of political theatre. I suppose it was difficult not to be, you know what I mean, especially in the 80s, it was such an horrible time in Britain, when things were consciously being destroyed, like society or the concept of it. Well it’s true, pretty good job that they’ve done…

But yet you were featured in an advert. You’ve Got the Power…

Yeah, a beer advert. A really crap beer advert.

I wouldn’t know, I don’t drink beer.

But yeah, that was really getting on the TV, getting your song on the telly, by any means possible. It was only in Scotland, anyway. But the only negative thing about that was that the pop charts used to be weighted. I think You’ve Got The Power sold loads of copies over a couple of consecutive weeks, while that advert was being aired, but the people at the.. I forgot the name of the company… anyway, the actual sales were deducted, they were weighted, because they were so many in one area it looked like we’d been going out and strategically buying up all the records in Scotland.

It’s crazy. But when you were signed to London Records, did you move down there or did you stay in Edinburgh?

No, no, we stayed here, it was pretty easy to move up and down, it was pretty easy to get in a plane, you didn’t need a passport, it was like getting on the bus. It was relatively cheap as well. We lived in London quite a lot at the time, we used to stay for long periods of time. But we were always kind of coming back.

But I’ve always thought about Scottish music, and especially with your bands, that they’re really anchored in a place. And even with Scottish music in general, you know, the minute there is a documentary, it’s « the sound of young Scotland ». Do you think it has hampered your career in any way? Do you think the place you’re from has an importance on your work?

Not really. I don’t even think about that. I don’t think it’s important. Even then. The thing then was as well that the music press used to go and create scenes cause they had to. They kind of worked their way out from London in 1976 and gradually made it. Obviously there were a lot of thing happening in these cities anyway. But it was almost seen as cynical that journalists would eventually try and… they had to go north to keep on writing fresh, you know finding fresh material to write about so that they could carry on being writers. You know what I mean, it wasn’t seen as being sort of parochial… And also there were so much live stuff happening from the punk times. There was a massive live circuit, the bands were playing all the time and come up to Scotland. And american bands as well. Richard Hell, Link Wray, Robert Gordon, the Heartbreakers, Johnny Thunders, all in Edinburgh… Desmond Dekker, man!

Did you like all those bands? Cause another things that you can read about about the Fire Engines was an attitude that was quite anti-rock’n’roll…

That’s probably because we didn’t know how to play rock’n’roll.

It’s funny to see all those constructions made by critics, really.

Oh god, it’s unbelievable. Words like post-punk, I hate that word… well I don’t even think about that actually (smiles). But why do people use that? It’s that Simon Reynolds! Come on man, it’s punk!

Well, it’s alright. It’s opened possibilities for younger generations…

No, no, just punk.

Well, it’s pop, that’s what it is.

Yeah, it’s pop. But I think, it’s all journalistic. The museum thing, it’s all… filtered by whomever, they’re taking from reality whatever they want!

That’s why I’m only doing interviews now! So anyway, basically you’re in Win for two albums and you feel you don’t know how what you’re doing. How does that stop?

I think that we did know what we were doing, just not in the studio. And the second album was a real reaction to that, taking control of the sound and the direction. Not massively successfully, there’s still holes in that, it’s not 100% in anyway. The way it stopped was pretty horrible. Dreadful. It was basically our publisher, a representative from the record company and our management got together and decided that I should go away and write with other people, outwith the band.

Your own solo stuff?

No, just go and write with other people, to sort of freshen things up. So, that idea was put to the whole band, and obviously we reacted negatively to it until we found out we wouldn’t get any wages, unless they agreed. So everybody said « well, then you better go and do it Davy. We want our wages. Go away and write with other people. » So I ended up going, and the first people I ended writing with was David Motion, the guy who produced the first Win album and we wrote like thirty-odd songs, we were only meant to be doing a couple of song. So I went away down to London for months and months, we wrote loads of songs, hoping he would produce them, but the record company didn’t want him to produce them, so I got stuck in the studio with two other guys. It was just really horrible.

Was it a regular practice at the time?

Manipulation of the artist?

Yeah.

Aye, of course. The idea of making me collaborate with several people, but it was really the beginning of the end. And the thing was we started writing some really great songs, which Lawrence really liked. I sent them to him, he’s the only person in the world who’s heard them.

So what happened, do you still have those songs?

I’ve got recordings of the demos. The Win stuff that the record company didn’t like…

Put them on Bandcamp, man…

It’d cause too many problems.

You don’t have the rights?

I’ll give them to you if you want.

Of course!… And leak them online!

Nah. They’re too lovely. I just like to keep them beside my Judee Sill record.

Haha!

So I was down there for six months or something. And then the record company wanted me, not the rest of the band, and that was pretty horrible. So I stayed for another 6 months. I had a couple of songs that I recorded. I took them to the head of A&R and he wasn’t listening. He didn’t listen. He just wanted to play me Simple Minds doing Sign ‘O’ the Times by Prince.

Really? Wow…

Haha! It was just weird. It was such a waste of money. The Sexual Objects could have probably made about four hundred new albums on the budget…

Just for that period?

No, on Win cab’s budget alone, to take cabs around London. It sounds really… (He puts on a corporate voice) It’s a real waste of resources, Victor!

Haha, it was really the golden days… these companies had too much money on their hands…

God, it was unbelievable! The fact that we got paid wages for over two years, three or four years, it’s fucking insane, it’s pretty hilarious really…

But was there anything positive for you?

No, because it ended up being a real waste of time.

So basically you go back and you form Nectarine N°9? Just after that?

Well I just sat in my bedroom and started to play guitar again, cause I wasn’t really allowed to play guitar that much.

What do you mean?

Well, « What’s that noise? » That was the usual reaction to my guitar playing. So I just started to sort of playing around with drum machines, making riffs off. I knew the people I wanted to play with and asked them to join. And they’re still the same people that in The Sexual Objects, which is basically Nectarine N°9.

So why change the name then?

I said it in an interview as a joke. I said it to a journalist, she was interviewing me about the Fire Engines in 2004. She asked « So what are you gonna be doing next? Are you still going to do the Nectarine N°9 » I said « No, I think we might change the name to The Sexual Objects » and it came out on print and it looked brillant, it looked great!

It’s a great name. Yeah, cause everything can be…

Haha, exactly.

Have you seen the exhibition? It’s full of them!

Not yet, i’m gonna check it out.

So your first album, A Sea With Three Stars, is it a joke again? I mean, there is the infamous cover, but are you taking the piss a little bit of all those twee bands, you know, Sarah records kind of things, who would use that imagery, with that horrible double-meaning?

No, no, but I’m glad you enjoyed that particular filter, man! It’s just that I liked that double-meaning.

It’s very clever.

That whole time was just the exact opposite of being in Win, it was like freedom again, being completely unrestricted but totally broke. And then, I had this batch of songs, and the name for the band. And the guy I was telling you about who knows Rose from the Strawberry Switchblade, I was in Barcelona with him in a friend’s house, and I let him hear the stuff, and he was like « Oh right, I’m speaking to Alan Horne next week, I’m interviewing  Alan Horne next week » and I was like « Alright, give it to him then » and about three or four weeks later, Alan phoned my house and said « I’m going to Edinburgh next week, do you want to meet up ? » and we met up just over the road. And he said I love it, I really love it. And then he started to give me small increments of money, « Davy, make a record for nothing, Davy, make a record… » Tiny bits of money, paper money, green paper money, little bit… And that sort of went on for about three or four years, and then he disappeared again. Cause what happened in Win, he was instrumental in us getting…

Yeah, with Swamplands.

Yeah with Swamplands but then he just disappeared, and we were stuck on London records, and people hated us. They used to take the piss out of the stuff that Alan had brought to Swamplands, that was coming out on the label. They all thought it was a lot of shite. And they used to really verbally abuse him at work, not that he minded… And he just disappeared because he did not want to do that anymore, and we were stuck.

Then he started Postcard again.

Then he started Postcard again, and that’s when we got reintroduced to do the Nectarines.

And really, that period of Postcard is really great. That’s when he realized the Paul Quinn albums, and these are brilliant… Why did Alan waste his time at London records?

Well, he was really independent, he had his own finance by London Records, and he could do basically what he wanted.

And he did very little in the end.

Yeah, unfortunately. But once again he just disappeared, again. He did the Paul Quinn albums, he was really active for a while, until we did the Saint Jack album, then I think he was sort of… really stoned all the time (laughs). I don’t know if you should put that… But I don’t know, I think he just lost interest. But not in the ideas, because he’s just really super illuminated all the time. But the mundanities of putting records out… which you have to do, these are almost as important as having a good idea, probably more unfortunately.

Then he disappears, and what happened?

So we did Saint Jack, which turned out to be our last record for Postcard. We had started another, we were connected to Sano Records and Chemical Underground had been in touch, but we ended up on Creeping Bent, they started to be responsible for us, and that took us to Beggars Banquet.

You had a couple of reissues, but nobody has reissued your whole discography. There’s only a few things by the Fire Engines, the second Win albums or Saint Jack. It’s quite reductive. How come?

Well, that was just people asking if they could do it; I think it was Cherry Red who did the Win one. We don’t have any rights to that material, we do not have any of the rights of the recordings so it’s not up to us. So if people want to do it they can just do it. So we either agree to be involved if there’s extended booklets and stuff or provide materials, or give or blessing. The Saint Jack thing was Heavenly Records, and they wanted to do it with Jock’s records who was on Postcard, and they hadn’t been on a vinyl either. But I’m not bothered about it, I don’t really care, it doesn’t matter to me. If people do it, they can just do it.

So you don’t think you own your music, even on a moral level?

I don’t care about it. I mean, I care about The Sexual Objects, I don’t care about anything else. People can do whatever the fuck they want.

I will have to go soon, I need to pick up my son from nursery. One last thing, for the Sexual Objects, you released Marshmallow, after all. You had put a single copy on auction a couple of years ago.

Yeah, we only released one copy. I wasn’t involved in the subsequent release. It was the person who bought it. Part of the sale of the one copy was reproduction rights. The guy started a record label and changed the cover.

Really? I supposed he could?

Not really, but it’s too late now.

It’s a nice concept. Weren’t you mad about the Wu-Tang Clan record?

Yeah, but does that actually exists?

Well, there is something, a nice box, there is a tracklist, etc. But there is a clause in the contract that forbids the buyer to sell the content.

Oh, so it was designed like an exhibit. But for us that wasn’t the intention to create a sort of exotic artefact. It was basically the equivalent of selling 500 records at a tenner a pop, you know what I mean. And that’s what we done. We got 4000£ for one album and we achieved that.

I really think there is not enough space for these objects in museums. You see, the Museum exhibition? Why is Marshmallow not there?

Yeah… But my guitars are gonna be there. The whole summer. The essence of our sound is going to be in the Museum while we’ll be in Leith playing with Lydia! So I don’t know how that’s gonna go.

OK, there is a lot we could talk about but I really need to go now…

Was it alright?

Yeah, that was great, thanks!

And I’ll see if I can get in touch with Rose to see if I can get a contact for you.

Oh thanks! I was wondering, are you still in touch with Paul Quinn? He was on my list too.

Not really, he is very private. But between you and me, I know that there are things happening with him. But don’t tell anybody that!

Of course not.

Drawing by Maxim Cain

Yeah, shh! Top secret. I think there is some book or something. Alan was trying to get loads of material together last year. I just couldn’t be arsed… I had some piece of paper with some cut-up shit on it so I sent him that. But I hate visiting the past… I hate it! This interview was hell for me.

Ha! Oh man, I’m sorry…

No, it’s fine…

Well, you brought it on yourself.

Hey! Don’t blame me!

I mean, you have an impressive body of work. Between The Fire Engines, Win, Nectarine N°9 then the Sexual Objects… That’s a lot of albums!

But I’m 57! And most of these were over the first 30 years…

Not a lot of people have this kind of legacy…

Haha! Nice to meet you man. Thanks for asking.

 

Listen to our playlist with a selection of Davy Henderson songs from Fire Engines, Win, The Nectarine N°9, The Sexual Objects) and also Paul Haig, Rose McDowall, BMX Bandits, Melody Dog, One Dove.

4 réflexions sur « In the Lands of Scotland : Davy Henderson »

  1. Great, informative interview with Davy, Victor. If you want to speak to Rose McDowall, drop me an email. Under The Yew Possessed album was re-released yesterday.

  2. Great article Davy is an inspirational credit to Scotland and has inspired people as far as the North of Sweden. A full gig on Swedish Radio brilliant stuff.

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