This is the story of a South London boy who was born in Croydon…Hold on. Cut to Brighton, 2018. It’s a beautiful sunny June afternoon and I’m sitting at a pub called The Windmill waiting for Darrell Bath, whom I arranged to interview. “He better show up on time”, I say to myself. After all it was a long way from faraway Buenos Aires to the south of England. Add to that, only 4 hours ago I’d jumped on a train from London (Hemel Hempstead actually, where I was staying), changed it at Clapham Junction, then changed again at Hove, and finally set foot at the Brighton station only 2 hours before I’d meet him. But time was running short. I still had to find the hotel where I had a room booked for the night, which takes you longer than supposed when you go just the opposite way and, errr, it’s not there. To make things worse, it’s called The Brighton Hotel, which means pretty most all of them are. But there should be only one under that very name, or so I thought, and about 20 blocks after I finally reach my second Brighton destination. An hour to interview time now, but somehow time has run faster, and I still have to find the place where we’ll meet which, even when it’s supposed to be not that far from where I am, but nobody seems to know it. And yes, before you wonder, I’m asking the locals. And yes, before you wonder again, I don’t have a cell phone with me and everybody seems to be pretty clueless but the middle-aged lady who directs me to the next street with a pub with The Windmill sign making eyes at me. The wait is finally over, although nothing would have stopped me from meeting one of my music heroes ever -and believe me, I have quite a few- whom I discovered back in 1993, by the time he joined my beloved Dogs D’Amour to record what was should be considered the band’s last great album. 5.30, isn’t it time now? That’s exactly when Darrell enters the scene, two minutes before we order the first round of pints. And there’s many more to come all though the hour and a half or so the interview will run for, as there’s lots to talk about. His last solo album “Roll Up”, released 3 years ago, must be one of the finest albums ever recorded by anybody, you just can’t deny it, but there’s about 32 years prior to that also left to discussion. From 1986 onwards, when he joined Charlie Harper’s UK Subs for the first of many stays, his brief passage through the previously mentioned Dogs, his days with Ian Hunter or The Vibrators or Nikki Sudden and, of course, the amazing and swaggering Crybabys. The story of a South London boy who was born in Croydon, went from playing side drum at school to discover the more rockin’ sounds of the Stones and the Faces and the blues and the glam and the punk guys. ‘Cause if every picture tells a story, here’s Darrell to tell you a few. And yes, please, we’ll have another pint, thank you.
I first heard about you when you joined the Dogs D’Amour for the “More Unchartered Heights of Disgrace” album in 1993. But 7 years before that, you joined the UK Subs, who you did three albums with, and it always seemed to me that somehow you completely changed the sound of the band.
Yeah, “Japan Today”, and two more albums. Yeah, more rock and roll, blues and R&B. Our common ground was garage rock’n’roll blues. Charlie (Harper) is a great harmonica player and he’s into all that.
So would you really say it was you who affected the sound of the band?
Oh yeah. We didn´t really play any of my compositions live, maybe one or two, like “Thunderbird Wine” or “Street Legal”, they were the only new songs we used to play live, the rest were from the previous albums.
More punk style…
Yeah, Ramones-y, or even a bit of hardcore style. I could adapt to that, that was no problem. I wouldn’t say it changed too much, but yeah. I love all good punk albums.
Right after that you joined the Dogs, or was there something in between? The Crybabys? If so, was it your first major personal band?
Yeah, the Crybabys. My first personal original band, yeah, with John (Plain) and Robbie (Rushton)
How did that ever happen?
Quite easy. I was working with Arturo (Bassick) from The Lurkers. We did one tour supporting Die Toten Hosen, who were very big Lurkers and (The) Boys fans. That went really well, so it came the chance to tour with them a second time, and Arturo rang John Plain. Two guitars, and one bass player singing, so during that tour we thought “let’s do our own thing in the style of the Faces or Mott the Hoople!” And that’s what we did. And John’s great, ‘cause he encouraged me to write my own songs, which wouldn’t have been right for UK Subs or some of the other bands I was with around that time.
And you also did a lot of writing together.
Yeah yeah, lots of them. But The Boys were still popular.
And then you recorded four albums with the Crybabys.
Yeah. “Where Have All the Good Girls Gone”, “Rock On Sessions”, “Daily Misery” and “What Kind of Rock’n’Roll?”, which was a compilation of our first album, once again, “Where Have…” and what was we thought was gonna be our second album, but it really wasn’t.
Any particular favourite of yours?
Yeah, I Like “Rock On Sessions”. It’s a shame it’s such a rare album.
I agree, it’s really impossible to find. Actually somebody copied it for me on a blank CD a long time ago, because I couldn’t find it on eBay, or anywhere.
Yes, it’s impossible to get it anywhere. Only a few copies were done. It was recorded in France, and then they pressed it up. Some 200 copies got sent to New York, and suddenly a phone call comes, “oh the warehouse has burnt down”… And it was like, “oh please!”…
And the album was never re-issued.
No. It was recorded in ’94, and it was eventually released in 2000. And the sound is pretty good, it’s a good performance. I love the band on that. That’s when we had Danny Garcia in the band, the man who made the Johnny Thunders film, he’s the bass player. He sings one song too.
Right, and you had Les Riggs on drums instead of Robbie Rushton.
Robbie is in the first two albums. And it’s Von in “Daily Misery”, who’s now in Die Toten Hosen and, yes, that’s Les Riggs from Cheap and Nasty on “Rock On Sessions”
But the band didn’t do much touring at the time.
We did a bit, mainly in England and France.
Sorry, it’s just that I couldn’t find much information about the Crybabys…
Yeah, I know, very “cult” (laughs)
OK and then you joined the Dogs D’Amour. How did that happen?
How did that happen? Well we knew each other a bit, but I think that was because they had one more deal, one more record to make with China Records, and the old guitarist Jo (Dog) stayed in America, and they needed a guy in England. And, you know, my flat mate was a music promoter called Fish, and he was gonna book two nights at the Astoria, in Christmas ’92. I just thought I’d meet them for one or two gigs. Cool. But there was an album to do as well.
And for me, that album, “More Unchartered…” somehow marked the end of the good days of the Dogs D’Amour. I mean, I’m not saying that caused the end of the band, but they wouldn’t be that good anymore.
Probably not. But we also did Tyla’s first solo album (“The Life & Times of a Ballad Monger”) which is a good album as well, nice sound on it.
And then you toured a bit with the Dogs at the time.
Oh yeah. All over England, and Spain. We were very popular in Spain. Only in those two countries. They were great fun gigs. Just good fun, while it lasted. Nice audiences, especially in the shows in Spain. And it was crazy. They would come to the gigs with 20 bottles of wine with “the Dogs D’Amour” painted on the label.
So you were doing both the Crybabys and the Dogs’ thing at the same time?
Yeah. In fact all band played on the original version of “All the Way to Hell and Back”, on the demo version. But I’ve lost it.
Why did the Crybabys stop? Honest John told me last year that he was looking forward to doing at least one more album with the band. In fact you both did a few acoustic shows together.
Well, we didn’t stop, but that would be great. Yeah, we did a little tour in Italy. And we did one more single on an Italian label. That was “Scars” backed with “Tell Me”, the Stones’ song, which was a double A side.
What about Ian Hunter? You worked with him for 6 years. I read somewhere that “you came to be the perfect replacement when writing songs after the death of Mick Ronson”. How much did you write together?
Yeah, we did some writing. He’s a great guy, he encourages you. He looks for the best things in people, and brings them out. I wouldn’t say I’m near Mick Ronson, no. It was more like we were more like a strict rock band in the spirit of Mott the Hoople, rather than a big rock band like Foreigner or Queen.
Did you do a lot of touring together?
We recorded in America, but we didn’t play over there. “Dirty Laundry” was recorded in Abbey Road, and then we did some overdubs in Trondheim, Norway. The second one was done in Vermont, up there in the hills, and then again the overdubs were finished in Trondheim. The whole scene was really “Lilyhammer”. Have you seen the film?
No, I guess I haven’t .
Oh man, you gotta see it…That would remind you of how it was like!
All the members of the Crybabys play in “Dirty Laundry”, so in a way it’s like an extra Crybabys album, as a matter of fact it sounds like that.
Oh yeah it does, it´s a classic album. And I love it.
Come 1995, that’s when you worked along Spike of the Quireboys on the “Take Out Some Insurance” album.
Yes we did, me and Spike, but that was unofficial, it was never been properly released. It was only available on cassette, and sold at gigs. That was it. Good album, uh?
Very good album, all blues standards…
Lots of blues, only one or two originals, one or two ‘70s John Mayall songs, a couple of classics, a Mississippi John Hurt one, a Muddy Waters song, you know, just the best we could do.
Did you jam at the studio?
No, we were given a task by a publisher. He said “would you do this? Here’s a few ideas”. We did it in a great studio in Chiswick, a lovely studio called Chiswick Reach, all old valuable equipment, some of the original Joe Meek, it was his old equipment, so it was really old stuff.
Well, it sounds like old stuff…
Yeah, it sounds authentic. “Spoonful”… Jimmy Reed´s “Take Out Some Insurance”…
And it’s all timeless. I never pay attention to years, or when albums were released, only for biographical details….And by the way what made you become a musician? Were you a baby at the time? You were born in Croydon, right?
Yeah. It was like a magnet, you know. I loved the radio. My grandmother played the accordion, my grandparents played the piano…things like that.
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
Yeah, a sister, she’s younger than me, and she plays great tenor horn. She’s pretty accomplished as well, she’s a teacher. There was always music around. I could play violin and the guitar. I learnt all the chords, you know, just all the classic things.
But you played guitar since the get-go. Was it your first instrument?
Naaah, early teens, since 13. Before that was the drums, a side drum, I was in a marching band.
That’s how most people start, with the knife and the fork banging pots and things at home.
Yeah, that’s right, that’s how you learnt it! I was fascinated! And all my friends in school, we were all in the same marching band. We’d all practice at the church hall. We loved it, man. And we were really scruffy, really scruffy guys, with the long hair and the bit, you know.
Do you still remember which was the first album you bought?
I think it was “Rock Around the Clock”, or something like that.
I’d like to know about your collaborations with Honest John in his solo albums.
Oh yeah, the “Honest John Plain and Friends” album. Again, that’s basically a Crybabys album, ‘cause that one has Von and Ronnie on it, both Crybabys’ drummers, and it was recorded in Blaneau Festiniog , that’s in Clywd, Wales.
Oh that was a bit hard to understand, being it Welsh…
Yes, that’s Welsh. My grandmother speaks Welsh, she was used to, and my mother probably knows a bit of it. They’re both Welsh. And the language gives them an identity. I’d forgotten how good that album actually is! We’d been there for a couple of weeks, and John had his brand new envelope for 50 pound notes and he would take it into the pub every day. And eventually the locals would be very suspicious (laughs) I remember this guy at the pub saying to John, “coming out from bloody London with your brand new 50 pound notes, I know what you’re doing, you’re laundering money!” Anyway, great album! Another rare one, there’s not so many of them around. Another “cult” classic. I’m very proud of that album, ‘cause the guitar sound on it is great. My work is done on a ’66 Gibson Firebird on there.
You should do a box-set including the Spike blues album, all those lost songs and gems.
John has the most stuff, has a lot of concerts. He has one particular wild concert from us in a mountain district in Switzerland, me, Robbie and John, when we were just The Gringo Starrs, before the Crybabys. Before we had the name The Crybabys, we were The Gringo Starrs.
Any explanation behind the Amigos or Gringos thing?
Well you know, we like cowboys. We love all that Texas cowboys thing, Spanish, Italian…Mandolins, we love all that.
When I interviewed Honest John last year in Buenos Aires, he told me he wanted to do another Crybabys album. He gave me his word. Now it’s your time you gave me yours.
It’d be wonderful! I’ve got the songs. The glass is quite full, my “song glass” is getting full, you know. I’m not the biggest writer in the world, but we could be ready for an album, easily.
Where did you get your slide guitar style from? Any heroes?
Yeah, Ronnie Wood, but somebody told me “tune your guitar to an open E”, and use a glass bottle”, and I didn’t have a glass bottle, but I had a marker pen, a glass marker pen. So I got a marker pen, took the ink out, took the label off, and it fitted on my finger. Waaawwlll, simple as that.
Oh yes, but in your recording with the Crybabys, that was a real bottleneck, not the pen.
Not that one, no, I lost the pen. But I liked it when I you just can to use a little bit of brass or something. I have a slide from Ronnie Wood, a brass one, from Ronnie. From ’91, when I met him in Hackney. My friend Ronny Rocka was working as his assistant.
Everybody loves Ronnie, but most of the people were always mostly after Keith Richards.
Course I do! Everybody loves him. He’s the king of the gypsies, he’s a gypsy prince.
Do you think his hair is black after all these years? Some people say he dyes it…
No, his hair is strong. Some people never lose their hair, his is just black.
And you’ve always been this big Faces fan, by the way.
Yeah, big Ronnie Lane fan. Big Steve Marriott fan too.
You also worked with René Berg.
Oh man, I nearly got killed once with René Berg! He was a very hard drug addict, but a great guy. I was seeing him maybe once a week or something, playing music. We were music friends really, not so much to do with the drugs, but he was playing hard in that world. And one day we were around his house, and two guys turned up. A white guy, and a black guy from South Africa. And we sat there talking.
They sure weren’t delivering pizza or anything…
Yes, it was drugs stuff. One of the guys pulls out the biggest gun I’d ever seen, it was a brand new solid Magnum, of the hi-tech variety. I actually wasn’t scared, for some reason. You know, I don’t like confrontation, but that was a scene. He was a great guy, and one of the last things he said to me was “I’m sorry”. Because he went down. Everything about hard drugs is hard. But we did lots of gigs together around London, and I also sang backup vocals.
And now the Vibrators. You didn’t only record with them, but also toured a lot.
Yeah, I met them through Charlie Harper. When I was in the UK Subs, we did long tours with the Vibrators.
What about Nikki Sudden, who you toured with and recorded with too? Too sad he’s gone now.
It was never more surprise than to me. I was very surprised, I wasn’t expecting that. Circumstances, you know. Nikki, oh mate, he was a lovely lovely lovely guy. He loved the Crybabys, he loved Honest John, he loved Casino Steel. In the Vibrators there’s four or five people. One guy drives the van and plays the drums. Another guy writes all the songs and plays a bit of guitar. Another guy also plays the guitar, and he does a lot of party. Another guy books the studios and engineers the albums. But Nikki did all of those jobs. And the party. So that may have something to do with it. It was an honour to be in such an elaborate project like “Treasure Island”. I knew Nikki from a friend of mine called Desperate Dave. He was a guy we all knew from going to gigs like Johnny Thunders, Hanoi Rocks and that sort of bands. Again, I was lucky to be involved in a few sessions for “Treasure Island”. He had at least two albums full of material, stuff we did in Berlin for “The Truth Doesn’t Matter”, which also became “Playing with Fire”, so there were two albums worth of material done in sessions in Berlin which often lasted from 10 in the morning to 2 in the next day. We got 6-day studio time, and that was the beginning of “The Truth Doesn’t Matter”. And lot of work involved in “Playing with Fire” as well. The great thing about the “The Truth Doesn´t Matter” sessions is we always stopped in the morning, picked up a case of nicely affordable red wine, and I´d be in charge of knocking out the glühwein on the stove. We got the glühwein going, you know, since it was the middle of winter.
Time to talk about your solo records. Would you consider Sabre Jet’s “Same Old Brand New” your first one?
“Same Old Brand New” was the first one. It was a solo album but, when it came down to it, a guy said to me “ok I’ll call it after a group”, but it was basically all my stuff. With Richard Newman, son of Tony Newman, Paul Kirkham on bass…Engineered and produced by Andy Scott from The Sweet. And I loved The Sweet, ‘cause my first love in music was glam rock, from ’72, ’73, ’74 and ’75, ‘round that area, the glam rock days.
Would you then consider “Love and Hurt” your first
proper solo album?
Yeah, I guess, I’d say that would be my first actually. It was recorded with the great Dave Goodman, who was the Sex Pistols producer, amongst many other things. Bands like Eater, and many more. And “Love and Hurt” was recorded on 9/11! Yeah. That’s what I remember about it.
And then came a long hiatus till you recorded the “Madame Zodiac EP” in Spain with Los Tupper and also Eddie Edwards from the Inmates, Vibrators, etc. Dave Kusworth did an album with them too…
We were touring Spain with Nikki and Dave. I met those guys and they invited me over to play in their album and eventually I did some of my stuff too.
2015 saw the release of “Roll Up”, which must be one of the finest rock albums ever in history.
I don’t write a lot of songs but I have some in store. I was ready to do them, and I had the money to pay for the studio, ‘cause I´d been working with the Vibrators on the road, and I thought the best thing to do was planning for the future and get some music up there. So I got Robbie Rushton from the Crybabys on the drums and Chris McDougall on the bass, so I just did it with my closest friends.
It’s one of those albums I just cannot stop playing, it already became a favourite of mine. “It’s in the Music” is one of the most beautiful songs ever. And by the way what’s the history behind “Rat Palace”?
Oh, that´s from when I was living in Hackney. There was an anarchist cafe, and I went up there one day, and I was reading some books about anarchy. So “Rat Palace” is basically inspired by an anarchist book that I read in a cafe. And I liked it, I just liked it. So it’s kind of abstract but, you know, we all live in a rat palace haha, we go drunk from the chalice, you know.
And what does “goombah” mean, by the way? (from the title of the song “Dancin’ with the Devil’s Goombah”)
I got that from The Sopranos, from the gansters. “Goombah” can be a girl-friend or a boy-friend, but it’s not your wife.
Any new recordings you did after “Roll Up”?
Well, I’ve got a couple of new tracks that I’ll be working on in Spain, and I’m also on the last two or three albums by Los Tupper. Yeah, man.
So what’s coming up next now?
Little bits and pieces, I just do bits and pieces. Hopefully when the time is right a new album will take shape. I’m a bit like Ronnie Wood in that way, you know, you don’t do an album in five minutes. Build up the interest, keep it going, keep it interesting and wait till it’s good. And it always takes a few years to people to discover it. It always takes time.
Once again, it’s such a fine album, it sounds already classic, beautiful sound all over it, and I’m not playing the fan here…
My favourite track is “Slimline Jim”, hahaha, I love “Slimline”.
And then I cannot get enough of “Dirty Rock Road” too.
Yeah, I love that too.
Anything else you want to talk about?
Not yet. But someday I’d love to go to Argentina, say, with Honest John and Dave Kusworth. “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”, hahaha.