Welcome to the Time of My Life
A Soundtrack4Life Exclusive
In conversation with Manufactured Romance
Nina Spencer - Vocals
Nick Medlin - Bass
Chips Chapman - Guitar
Benny Di Massa - Drums .
I love it when bands I followed when I was a kid take an opportunity to get back together and play live for the first time in years. A couple of those bands I'll mention in passing just so you can catch my drift a little. Penetration, fronted by Pauline Murray were one of my favourite live bands back in the late 70's and early 80's. After a couple of albums and some truly amazing singles they shut up shop and Pauline started another band The Invisible Girls, but it was never the same. A few years ago they got back together, did a few live shows and made a DVD capturing one of those performances. It was a wonderful experience.
Last year as a benefit for Paul Fox, the remaining members of The Ruts got back together and did a one off show that featured Henry Rollins on vocals. A few months after the show Foxy passed away. In January of this year a live DVD was released that captured that benefit gig and included performances by Eddie Ten Pole Tudor, Max Splodge, The Damned, UK Subs. TV Smith and Tom Robinson as well as a strong set by The Ruts. I have to admit that I was very emotional watching the show because I had attended many gigs by The Ruts when Malcom was alive and seeing three of the original band playing together for the first time in more than 20 years just melted me. Add to that the fact that Foxy was very sick and it was a real roller coaster ride to watch.
So I was more than surprised to hear the news that another band I loved was getting back together. Now this band had not had the breaks that Penetration or The Ruts had enjoyed. In fact their musical output amounted to one single and a couple of tracks on a compilation, but they are a band that I treasured seeing live way back in 1979 and once again will be excited at the prospect of seeing them hit the stage later this year (more about that to come).
The band I am talking about is probably unknown to most people but for the past couple of years they have had a prescence here on MySpace and it seems all the old punk rockers are coming out of the woodwork to welcome back Manufactured Romance.
Formed in 1978 and beginning life as Fourth Reich (though a name change would be needed as many thought the band had right wing leanings - which they didn't) they made their live debut at The Marquee Club in Wardour Street, London (the club no longer exists on that site but is now situated in Upper St. Martin's Lane) supporting the UK Subs in 1979. They released one single on Fresh Records entitled 'Time of My Life' and not long after that they appeared to vanish off the face of the earth (well not physically as we shall hear from two of the band).
Recently we caught up with Nick Melden and Nina Spencer to chat about the old days and also to hear a little bit about what's coming up in the life of Manufactured Romance in 2008.
S4L: Manufactured Romance have been a presence on My Space for a couple of years now. What made you want to draw attention to the band again after so many years?
Nick: We found an old fan Chris Lloyd on the internet, who with the help an American girl had set up a band tribute page. We were surprised how many visits he'd had. So Chips did this myspace site, he put a couple of songs on there the whole thing just took off. Its had nearly 20,000 hits now and has been the main reason for the planned reunion. Its great to see comments from so many people worldwide who enjoy the music. The range of ages surprised us too, different generations from every continent have asked us to release material and tour their countries. Its just great to know that things we did years ago still means something to people today.
S4L: Since the 80's what have the band been up to? Have you all stayed in the music business in one form or another?
Nick: Funilly enough none of us has ever stopped making music. Benny owns a recording studio in West London and has been a producer for many years now. Chips started a band with Annabella Lwuin and had some success there. Then he linked up with Chris from the Wolfmen for a while. He has kept all his equipment and we regularly meet up and play / write together. I was lucky having two boys who adore music. As soon as they were old enough to understand how it was made they wanted guitars, drums, keyboards you name it. So there have always been instruments around the house. Its hard not to pick up the bass or a guitar in that environment. My wife Dani was a backing singer with us for a few years and toured Italy with us so music is always there.
Nina: I have never really stopped being involved in music in some shape or form. I did a lot of recording and MCing with different djs during the dance music scene in the early 90s it was still with the same attitude that I had in the band, you know just grab a mic and go for it pretty much making the whole thing up as I went along. I learnt more about the technical side of being in the studio and started recording my own stuff on the computer.
In 2000 I landed in Oakland with little more then a mic in my back pocket and a few outfits intending to stay just a while. But within days I was programme manager and Dj on a pirate radio station that served the bayarea in east Oakland. 8 years later I am now living with my son 5yrs old and my husband! It just shows you that anything is possible. We had to close down the radio station as the FCC here were busting people all over the place and I did not want to be deported!. I have never stopped writing and performing when ever I got the chance and I record here under the name Steel Kitten.
S4L: I believe that you are going to be playing at Rebellion this year. Have you tried to get the band back together at other points in time and what have been the obstacles to that happening previously?
Nick: We were asked to do Rebellion last August but we just ran out of time really. With Nina in the USA it's a little tricky. She has a young family which obviously takes priority so her time is very limited.
Nina: I feel I have such a long history with the band and we clik in a way I never have with any other musicians that though it never occurred to me to get back together with my boys it seemed perfect thing to do when the idea was put to me, and I have no reservations about the quality of our work yet to come, some of our material is still relevant and fresh hahaha now as it was back in the day. We did not try to be anything we just were what we were and the style we had was based on what we wanted to play not what was popular or all around us…this is partly why we never accepted or got involved in the BIG money deals going at the time…too stubborn. Some of our old material feels a bit juvenile now but its fun and good to be silly sometimes…maybe in the past we took ourselves too seriously…now this girl just wants to have fun.
S4L: There are some tracks on Soundclick under the name of Manufactured Romance that were released in 2005 were they tracks that were done with the band or was that Nina's handiwork?
Nick: They are old recordings we did over a number of years in various studios. We have recently unearthed a load of old material which we are trawling through and will be putting a cd out in the very near future. Mostly early stuff but the quality of some of the early recordings has suffered over the years which means there is quite a bit we can't release it. It may escape on its own though!
Nina: The tracks on Soundclick are all works of the band, recorded when we performed under the name "Foreign Flags". (The band also went under the name of "Lost Property" ed.)
S4L: When you look back all those years to 1979 when the band got a break supporting the UK Subs at The Marquee club did you have expectations about where it might lead you as a band? What for you are the highlights of those days?
Nina: Just the drama and the dressing up the feeling that we were doing something exiting, Wishing that Thatcher was going to die and the miners would get a break and being spat at by Teddy Boys and beaten up by Arsenal fans and Skinheads….walking miles home from gigs in squeaky sweaty rubber stockings and having my picture taken everyday…rehearsing till my voice went and then spending all night sewing an outfit for the next gig…sleeping in vans with the band and listening to them fart while condensation dripped from the ceiling…learning how to sleep on trains without messing up my make up and hair…playing white riot over and over for the first time sleeping in doorways getting pneumonia being turned away from pubs….crazy s*** all the time. Then there was the music and the live stuff it always felt good even when it was bad…we rehearsed religiously and wrote a lot and played a lot so we could pretty much set up anywhere at short notice ad bring it together…the band was sincere and hilarious and I love them for it. It was great to be able to say our first ever gig was at the Marquee it says a lot about what is possible and that nothing is for certain so why not go for broke…all day every day…
People forget that everyone and his dog was in a band then. All we wanted was to be able to keep doing what we were doing….we were stubborn in those days and wanted to earn a living by being in a band but we wanted full control over content, art work, pr, and all of it and until we got it our way we decided to do it on our own, managers came and went they came with stupid ideas and big pockets of cash and we basically ignored them, spent their cash, got the chance to go in the studio etc and then they would get all greedy and paranoid and start talking contracts, points, producers, song writers!!!and always some bright idea of splitting up the band in some way…so they had to go and another band name change would occur…this happened so often in the 10 years we played together that we ran out of names and stamina. They also usually kept the masters of our recordings so we don't have them to use now but we will still produce a cd from what we can get together and if those managers etc want to crawl out of the wood work to sue us bring it on….we will deal with it in our own way hahaha.
Nick: Its odd looking back at how certain events lead to where you are now. The whole punk ethos of DIY meant that anybody could be a musician and start a band. All four of us have always been very very serious about our music and once this movement allowed us to be musicians there was never any doubt really. Our expectations? I must be honest in that all we wanted to do was write and play music. Most of the time we were together we had no management so no-one was really pushing to get us anywhere. Nina used to get most of our live bookings which for the most part had to be in and around London as no of us could drive. Highlight for me was probably our first ever gig which was at the Marquee. I had spent the previous three years bouncing around the audience there and every other club in London. To be up on stage giving the audience the tools to do the same is a feeling like no other.
S4L: I can still remember the joy on discovering your release of 'Time of My Life' on Fresh Records. Jerry Floyd (DJ at the Marquee) played it like crazy. On the first night he had it he played it at least three or four times. What are your thoughts about that time when you had released the single? Was it only a single deal or were there plans to do an album? How did it all come to a grinding halt?
Nina: We recorded it on Friday the 13th I remember in a small studio in Tin Pan Ally down near Soho. It was fun we did not have any experience recording and a lot of producers and engineers were used to dealing with disco or heavy rock so it was hard to get the right sound…it was exiting and we pushed to get different colors on the sleeve and had to repeat ourselves in meetings which we went to as a band and always ended up disappointed we were good at organizing ourselves and did not want any part of our projects farmed out this pissed a lot of business types off so no we did not plan anything more then the single which did really well and is still selling numbers today…We never saw a penny in fact we got it pressed in France ourselves. We had a good friend Mark Mason (ex manager of Muvvers Pride where I was the drummer) do the art work we sold them at gigs etc and Fresh Records distributed a few …what can I say. We stuck to our guns and in some ways shot ourselves in the foot….but anyone who suggests we compromised our punk integrity at the time is talking out of their arses..sorry its not a nice state of affairs nothing much has changed and we are still fighting the good fight..having said that now I think we would be happy to get some help dealing with the day to day affairs of the music business. It's a nice thought that somehow we could just get on with being a band again... if we could one day just get paid hahahaha.
Nick: Time Of My Life was the only single although we did a couple of tracks on an album called 'Backstage Pass'. Time of My Life is still being released by our old label every few years on punk compilation albums along side Johnny Thunders and The Slits etc. We fell out with Fresh Records soon after the single was released. We were never very good at dealing with record companies and treated them with suspision most of the time. We were a very tight little unit and after our experience at Fresh we were even more wary.
S4L: You mentioned that there are plans to put out some material of the band. How much fun has it been rediscovering old tapes of the band and what has been the criteria for what will end up on the CD? Will it contain old 4th Reich favourites as well as Manufactured Romance songs? Are you releasing it independantly or do you have a label? How will you sell the CD, via the Internet or will you try and get it in some stores?
Nick: I've just spent a couple of days with Chips putting this new cd together which we are very excited about. If it goes well we have enough material to put a couple more out in the future. We mentioned yesterday that this is the way we should have done it from the start, a lot of bands did. The standards we set ourselves have always been high so we could have done a good job but we never even considered it back then and had no money to get it started anyway. These things are much easier now with the internet having such a large audience.
Nina: Its been a nice surprise to listen to all the old tunes..some I feel good about performing again and some feel like they represent another time for me and maybe feel a bit ingenuine to sing now but really they all hold a lot of different memories of an amazing time so its not just about the songs themselves…I am sure we have enough rousing material to create a set that will get everyone young and not so young on their feet…People have said our music was not strictly punk….Well those of us that were there from the start, who met up at Global Village before the Roxy was ever heard of , dressing in a way that drew attention and often provocative responses from all but a few, understand that punk is an attitude and not a set of chords set to a thundering 4/4 beat. Yes there was The Dammed but there was also Siouxsie's waltzing swaying crazy beautiful songs and don't forget folk punkster Patrick Fitzgerald with a big saftey pin stuck in his heart; bring in Blondie and Stop Your Sobbing with The Pretenders and you have a cross section out there defying the urge for the music press and industry at large to try putting them/us in a box. I forgot how many times I was told to be more like Kate Bush or compared to Stevie Nicks what the **** I was happy to be me and felt free to do that as a punk and it's a shame when so called punks try to put us in a box now, I was there. I know the truth. They can't tell me s*** I lived this.. I know we refused to compromise sometimes on reflection to our detriment . We are still doing it! We have no record label, manager, agent or even a van driver and our roadies will be whoever is kind enough to get it together and help. So Punks the word…we have had some great support on MySpace and offers of cash and sweat and heart felt effort from people we had not seen in 20 years!!!! It warms me deep inside to think its still out there for us and I am exited. We will be selling T shirts cds dvds etc on the internet don't know when or how but we will shout it out when we are ready…it won't be long…poor Nick and Chips have their hands full as there is only so much I can do from here so any help is well appreitiated. Thanks for this opportunity to tell it..like it still is..hahahaha
S4L: It's our pleasure Nina. Is Rebellion going to be the only show or do you have a few more in the works? I realise the difficulties of this what with Nina being in the States.
Nick: No, as well as Rebellion on 8th August we have the following Friday 15th August at Camden Underworld. There will certainly some more confirmed in next couple of months once it is clear what Nina's arrival date will be. It is difficult only having Nina over for such a short time. But it will be great fun and we are all looking forward to performing live again. If it goes well in August we could do further shows next year. We have had interest from the US, most countrys in Europe and Japan. But we need to understand the constraints Nina is under and make our plans accordingly.
S4L: Were you surprised that people still remember the band with such fondness after all these years? Was that a catalyst in getting the band back together?
Nina: I can only speak for myself…but no not really surprised..We always spent time with the people that came to see the band and had a very loyal fan base. We played live a lot and for along time so some of the people that really got into the band grew up with us in their lives..We used to have loads of people hanging out at our rehearsals and some came on tours with us. In those days it was never them and us, we were all in this thing together and so many of the crowd were starting bands of there own or already in one that it wasn't like today where you have bands on some kind of pedestal and body guards etc. I have had the Soundclick thing up for a few years now but it was Nick and Chips who set the MySpace page up. It all really kicked off from there. We were asked if we wanted to do the Rebellion festival last year and we were all up for it but I had already been to UK with my family in February so the purse was empty and we did not have time to raise my airfare but we are soon to be selling t.shirts and cds etc to help this time.
Nick: I have been extremely surprised by the response to the MySpace site. There have been loads of old punks, mods, skins etc from back in the day dropping by to say hello but what has really surprised us is the number of teens and early twenty somethings who have left comments and messages. Some of our material was written over 30 years ago while we were still learning our instruments. That it still sounds good to kids today is very pleasing. There has always been a lot of crap around from the music industry and today is no different but when I look at the profiles of some of our younger listeners they are following some great bands and music is very important to them. It is easy to understand Nina's voice receiving attention but they genuinely seem to get excited abut the songs we wrote – That's great news!
S4L:With the Rebellion show and the forthcoming CD do you have any other expectations for Manufactured Romance in 2008 and beyond?
Nina: I don't really think like that I really do take each day as it comes…if we could play here it would be fun as I have always thought we could do well here (in the USA ed.)..and I want the band to have that chance but my heart is always going to be in London. There is no city like it in the world. my radio show was called "Strictly London" however I must say I would not live in London again. So who knows? Things are different now and I have strong feelings about the state of the planet and the corruption of big money and the greediness of the idiots I see around me. Not enough has changed since we first started the band so I still feel I have a lot to say and sing about….I like to vent in a musical fashion ! so it would feel good to write about some of this stuff with the band.
Nick: I have to be honest and say that I don't have too many high expectations for myself musically. I'm so looking forward to playing with the band again and if that turns out to be a regular event brilliant. I have been writing new material for sometime now and really enjoying it. But I can't see myself touring for any period of time. Having said that if Benny ever needed a bass player for a session he is doing, or if we were offered a couple of dates in the States I would be delighted. I've been very lucky and have loads of things in my life that I love and music will always be one of them. Who knows, if this cd lands on the right desk this could happen but I won't hold my breath.
S4L: Nina, living in the States must be quite interesting for you. Are you involved with the music scene at all? Are people aware of your musical history? If so what is the response you get?
Nina: I don't really tell people here about what I have done. I find America, well I should say South California, really as that's where I live and know people, very conservative…narrow minded and ignorant , I love the actual land here and have some sweet friends but I hate the culture and stupidity here. The music scene I don't know enough about, I just listen to what I like and have been to a few hip hop, funk and groove nights in LA that were incredible and I love "the coup" but really I download most of my music and its not from the U.S.
S4L: With so many bands from the old punk days getting back together (or some never having split up) who were the bands that influenced you to get involved with music and why do you think someone like Charlie Harper is still doing what he is doing after all these years? I ask that because there was always an odd mentality that punk bands would do a few shows, make a few records and the call it a day after achieving their 15 minutes of fame. But look at bands like The Buzzcocks, Stiff Litte Fingers, 999, UK Subs and even Sham 69 and they are still producing great music and playing lots of shows more than 20-30 years later!
Nick: I was never a big advocate of old bands getting back together again. I was glad The Clash never did and sorry when The Pistols re-formed. We went to see Pauline Murray at the 100 club last year and The Damned in Kentish Town. I will go to see Poly at the Roundhouse in September too. I must say though its been great going to see live music again. We went to Shanne Bradleys 50th last year at the 12 bar in Denmark St. and it all started up again from there. I've seen the Carbon Silicon set in Portobello Road a few times now and love Mick's (Mick Jones formerly of the Clash) music. He has found himself a brand new sound nothing like The Clash or BAD but it still has everything I love about his music. We will probably rehearse two sets for August. The first one for a punk audience at Rebellion for example, and another one with some new material and some of the later songs we wrote. It would be nice to do some of that stuff too. The live bands I always loved were 999, The Boys, Menace, Gen X, Siouxsie, Buzzcocks, early Ants shows and as it happens Chelsea who are doing the rounds again. I always thought Gene had one of the best voices in punk rock. Best live band ever.. no question THE CLASH!
Nina: I never did that die before I am 30 thing. I was very sick when I was in my 20s and decided to just do what made me feel alive for as long as I could. Also there was something unique about the punk movement then that has not been replaced yet…so a lot of the bands playing still have a lot to say and a commitment that is still rare. Hahaha I never knew Charlie as a youth so it just feels like he has been and will be around forever..He is a force to be recognized and I am glad I know him he's a diamond hahaha
S4L: What are you favourite punk rock records? Do you still dig them out once in awhile and have a listen? What would be on your Soundtrack4Life?
Nick: Favourite punk records would be Snuff Rock by Alberto y Los Trios Paranois, In the City by The Jam and XTC's Science Friction. Too Expierienced by the Bodysnatchers, I will always love, and Emergency by 999.
Nina: Wow, well my soundtrack4life would start with James Brown and Motown followed by Bob Marley and the Mad Professor which would lead me into The Clash and The Damned….then for a wikked live show we would get the jam up there with Killing Joke and Joy Division…and The Banshees of course, throw in a hundred bands I don't even know the names of and Screaming Blue Messiahs and the UK Subs, Chelsea, Cocksparrer and The Stranglers...the list goes on. It wasn't just the bands it was the crowd too I remember certain people throughout the time we played evolving their own styles and being as well known as the bands they followed and quite rightly so.
S4L: Final question. Can you share three things about Manufactured Romance that you think everyone needs to know but might be afraid to ask?
Nick: Three things you need to know?
1). Nina is on the cover of Clash City Rockers offering some Ted a ruck.
2). In the Subs film 'Punk can take it' I'm the punk slashing his wrist in the restaurant scene.
3). Ninas first time on stage was singing 'Peanuts' with the late George Melly in some Soho jazz club in the 60's as a five year old.
Nina: Hahahhhaa firstly there is nothing I would be afraid of being asked if you have the questions I will have an answer. What do you want to know!!!!????????? I am honestly afraid of nothing!
Great to hear that both Nina and Nick have lost none of their passion for music in the years since Manufactured Romance last played together in a live setting. Also it is nice to hear some of the problems that they experienced as a young band and how they are now seeking to bring their music to a new generation of fans as well as those who had the pleasure of seeing them first time around.
The Rebellion Festival in August is going to be an exciting time for music fans and it is going to be a real joy once again to hear Manufactured Romance enjoying the Time of Their Lives.