Don’t call it a comeback – The Flaming Stars have never really been away.
The louche garage-rock act have been knocking around for more than 20 years, but their show at The Wedgewood Rooms will mark the first time they’ve played in Portsmouth, even though frontman Max Décharné grew up here.
As Max explains: ‘Everyone’s getting back together with one original member and a couple of togs or whatever – we’ve never split up and we’ve only had one line-up change in 23 years.
‘A lot of the gigs we do tend to be in places like Germany, Greece, Japan. We’ve done America a couple of times, wherever people want us to play. They never gave up buying vinyl in Germany, or going to gigs, so we’re still here.’
They formed in the mid-’90s just as Britpop was cresting and the band were totally out of step with the prevailing trends.
‘In the Britpop days everybody had to have their hair combed forward and be ripping off The Beatles. We had our hair combed back and were interested in things like Ennio Morricone, Johnny Cash, The Velvet Underground - that sort of thing. So we didn’t quite fit, but that was fine.’
In the Britpop days everybody had to have their hair combed forward and be ripping off The Beatles. We had our hair combed back and were interested in things like Ennio Morricone, Johnny Cash, The Velvet UndergroundMax Décharné
Their debut, Songs From The Bar Room Floor, has become a cult classic, and as Max puts it, ‘that title sort of sums up our world view.’
They knocked out six albums, but there has been nothing since 2006’s Born Under A Bad Neon Sign.
‘When we started there were lots of small, independent record labels that could turn a profit on an album selling 3,000 copies. We were recording LPs for a couple of grand, doing them in a week, and these things would make their money back.
‘Then along came this wonderful thing called the internet, so around 2000/1 the sales were about half of that because people were ripping it off the internet and a lot of small labels went to the wall, including Vinyl Japan, the great label that used to put us out, and Billy Childish, Holly Golightly – a lot of the bands who started out at Toerag Studios like we did.’
The analogue ethic of the famed Toerag Studios suited the Stars down to the ground.
‘Everybody standing in a room - you go: “one, two three, go”, and you play the track. You might put another guitar on, or a couple of overdubs, if it’s a very noisy track you might put the vocals on afterwards, but there’s a spirit you get by all playing at the same time that often gets lost when you build it up.
‘We don’t use computers, we don’t use click tracks, everything is just played.
‘The longest we’ve taken (to record an album) is about nine days, but for our first EP, we did seven tracks in one afternoon and the following day, That gave us the four tracks for the EP, a B-side for the next single and a couple of things we kept for spare.
‘Luckily John Peel liked it and started playing it. I rang him up and asked if there was any chance of a session, he said yes, and we ended up doing nine sessions for him.
‘Without him, it wouldn’t have happened.’
Aside from the band, Max has also carved a career as an author – he has written several books on pop culture and slang. It was when he was researching one of his books that he inadvertently ended up conducting the last interview with Peel.
‘I ran into him over the years every so often and then I was doing a book about the history of Kings Road in 2004 – there’s an awful lot of rock history down there, both the Sex Pistols and the Rolling Stones started down there, so I called him up and asked, do you mind if I interview you? So I interviewed him at great length that year, which was very kind of him. He had so many great stories.’
His most recent book is called Vulgar Tongues: An Alternative History of English Slang
‘As you can imagine, there’s an awful lot of music slang in there. If you’re listening to a record and it was made in, I don’t know, Harlem in the 1920s, you end up hearing a lot of that slang, and jazz fans over here ended up earing the language of New Orlean or Chicago - evne if you listen to David Bowie or Marc Bolan, they used a lot of slang in their songs. I love writing about music and pop culture history. it amuses me.’
Before the Stars, Max was drummer with punks Gallon Drunk. And it was with them that he last played here – at The Pyramids, supporting ‘our good friends Lush, in the autumn of ’91. I haven’t done a gig there since.’
Max grew up in Portsmouth, leaving as an 18-year-old for university.
‘I won’t name the school I went to because I hated it and I don’t want to give them the publicity,’ he chuckles. ‘But I used to tape John Peel’s show back in the punk days and then I’d be off into town to the HMV or whatever to try and buy what I’d heard that week.
‘And I saw a lot of the early punk gigs in Pompey. If any readers were at the X-Ray Spex gig at the Oddfellows Hall in ’77 – there were only about 80 of us there when Oh Bondage Up Yours! came out, I was there, or The Clash in ‘78 at the Locarno, Mecca Ballroom, or Wayne County and the Electric Chairs at the Clarence Pier ballroom, Buzzcocks at the Locarno, The Jam at the Guildhall in ’79.
‘We’re a band of old punk rockers, basically.’
The Flaming Stars and Emptifish
The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea
Sunday, April 16