Honest John Plain - The Boys - Uber Rock Interview Exclusive Print E-mail
Written by Dom Daley   
Saturday, 03 November 2012 03:00

Having just released one of 2012's finest singles and also being one of the founder members of The Boys as well as playing with The Dirty Strangers, Ian Hunter's Dirty Laundry, Honest John Plain's Amigos and about a bazzilion other uber cool bands, Honest John Plain has basically been there, seen it, and bought the T- shirt.  Over the years he's also had some of his songs covered by legends such as Hanoi Rocks and the Manic Street Preachers and has just been into Rockfield Studio to record a brand new studio album.  If that wasn't enough he is also well on the way to finishing writing and recording a brand new album with The Boys, so we thought it was the perfect time to catch up with the man renowned for his honesty and throw a few questions his way, and here my very own Uber Rockin' Amigos are the answers to the questions that matter.


Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls the one the only Honest John Plain.




Firstly thanks for taking the time with us at Uber Rock at what must be a very busy and exciting time for you.  The new video and lead track to you upcoming album - 'Never Listen To Rumours' features a pretty impressive line up.  Were the cats in the video the same ones who perform on the song?  I read somewhere that Glen Matlock was also involved but he's not in the video.


Yeah they were. Glen Matlock plays bass on 'Never Listen To Rumours' but unfortunately he wasn't able to make the video shoot so we used Sami who played bass on half of the songs we recorded at Rockfield last July. 


I was going to mention Rockfield so now seems a good time. How many tunes did you manage to record there?  Was it the same as when you recorded there all those years ago with The Boys and what makes it such a great and in demand place to record?


We were in Rockfield for three weeks and recorded 26 songs as well as an acoustic "as live" album of 12 songs.  Rockfield hasn't changed that much actually and I've been a few times over the years, although the last time I was there was with the Mannish Boys in the mid-1980s. We recorded in the same studio as I recorded the 'New Guitars' album with Pete Stride and the studio where Queen recorded 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. The Boys recorded 'Alternative Chartbusters' in the other studio at Rockfield; the same one Oasis recorded '(What's The Story) Morning Glory'.


I think everyone wants to record there because it's such an iconic studio where so many great artists have recorded over the years. It's also such a relaxed place to visit, there's horses and stables, plenty of places to go walking to reflect on your recording and some great pubs in Monmouth too. And to meet up with and have a chat with Dave Edmunds in his local boozer was surreal. 


R916Is there something special about actually rolling up to such an impressive and famous studio rather than do home recordings that many singers and bands favour these days?


Absolutely. With the advances in technology it's now become possible to record stuff "at home" and very cheaply too. But to spend time in a recording studio away from where you live is motivating and inspiring. We worked extremely hard when we were there but to have a meal and a few drinks afterwards with so many great and talented musicians was fantastic.


Do you mind telling us how many tracks will be one the new album and maybe a bit about that?


Well we've recorded 26 songs and we'll probably pick the best 11 or 12 for the album. Unbelievably we are still in the mixing phase of some of the songs so it's hard to say at this stage which ones will make it onto the album, I think it's likely that we'll have another single out in December or January with the album following in February/March 2013.


Was it easy getting Michael, Sam, Darrell, Martin and the rest of the band together to do the video as you all seem so busy lately?


It was extremely difficult because of everyone's commitments, particularly as we were having to do it at such short notice.  'Never Listen To Rumours' had been earmarked for a release in early August and following the success of the videos I recorded with the Landslide Ladies we decided in May/June that it would be a good idea if we could record a video with everyone who had been involved at Rockfield. It was proving nigh on impossible to find a couple of days when Tony Klinger (the director) and everyone involved in the video was available, particularly as the Michael Monroe Band were in the middle of a tour.  The best available fit was 16/17 July when everyone apart from Glen Matlock was available so that's what we ended up plumping for.


hjpcover700You recently released an album with Lester & The Landslide Ladies, which I thought sounded fantastic, and was a superb choice from your back catalogue.  Were you really pleased with how it came out?  There seemed to be a great energy in the recording.


Yeah I'm really proud of that album and the fact that we recorded it in less time than The Beatles took to record their 'Please Please Me' album is very satisfying. It sort of came about by accident and was only decided upon a couple of days before. Lester promoted a couple of my solo acoustic gigs in Italy and so I'd got to know him a little. He suggested that I do a three-week tour of Italy with his band the Landslide Ladies. My son Joe had told me that he'd seen a few of their videos online and thought they were a great band and that Lester looked like a young Matt Dangerfield, so who was I to refuse?


We had a couple of free days in the tour and Lester asked if I wanted to have a couple of days off or fancied going into the studio with the band and record an EP or something. As the tour kicked off I started to realise that they were "white hot" and "tight as shit" live. The day before we were due to go into the studio Lester suggested recording a live set and so we went in and played it "as live". If anyone made a mistake we had to start again and in six hours we had the album recorded. The following day we went back to the studio and mixed it and hey presto a few weeks later it's out in the shops! 


So what about some UK dates after the EP and album are released?  And if that were to happen who would you have in your solo band?


We are looking to have an album launch party and play some solo shows next year. Ideally I'd like everyone who appears on the album to be involved but that may not be possible because of their commitments.




Where are you at with regards to recording a new Boys album?


We went into the recording studio in June & August and have thus far recorded eight brand new Boys songs. We are planning to return to the studio in November and are targeting the first new Boys album in 30+ years to be out next summer. We had been discussing recording a new Boys album for a couple of years but all had our doubts over the venture. We all finally agreed last summer although it took us another year to finally get to the studio! I was a little apprehensive at first but it went so well, much better than we'd all anticipated. We are now all extremely excited about it and consider that we have the makings of the best ever Boys album.


Let's touch on your songwriting for a minute. When you write a song do you begin with the intention of it being for a Boys record or an Honest John Plain solo record? And do you write alone or prefer to jam ideas with a band and see what grows?


I can do either. When I'm on my own I tend to write songs on my acoustic guitar in my little green room. In the early days of The Boys Matt & Cas were the principle songwriters and no-one else got a look in. I tended to write on my own then and it became difficult for them to ignore me when I began to write songs like 'First Time', 'TCP' & 'Terminal Love'.


For our new album Cas suggested that the three of us write songs together in the studio, so we all came along with our individual ideas and fused them into new Boys songs.


I was talking to a friend recently and I told him about your new record and he asked me to mention that he bootlegged one of your gigs in a night club in Swansea in the 70's which is now on YouTube (audio) and fondly looks back at it as one of the best gigs he's ever attended even all these years later.  Do you look back fondly on those times in the late 70's and more to the point do you actually remember that gig?


That's the gig at Circles in 78 isn't it? I seem to recall that Artruro's sister Wendy was there. Of course I look back at those times with great affection, we were young musicians forging our way and hopeful that something special would happen. Unfortunately it never did! 




You've recorded with many great artists and players over the years, is there anything that particularly stands out above everything else?  


There are so many highs it's hard to pick just one out. I suppose if I had to pick just one out it would have to be going back into the studio with The Boys after more than 30 years and finding that the old magic was still there.


With The Dirty Strangers album I was in the studio at the same time as Ronnie Wood.


The Dirty Laundry album was great. Casino Steel pulled that together and to be in such an iconic studio as Abbey Road was magical, and with it being just up the road from where I live I could cycle there everyday.


Your albums with The Crybabys are some of my favourites from that time, what are your fondest memories of the band and why weren't you filling arenas?


Well getting The Crybabys second album 'What Kind Of Rock N Roll' released was a nightmare. We recorded it in 1992 and had just been voted Best New Band of 1991 in Kerrang, Alan Freeman was playing our first album on Radio 1 and we were gigging extensively to enthusiastic crowds. We delivered what we all considered a very good album and Receiver decided they didn't like it, refused to put it out nor let anyone else put it out! It finished The Crybabys as a full time working band. Ironically a number of the tracks were put out four years later to rave reviews on my first solo album 'Honest John Plain & Friends'. Steve Metcalfe pestered Receiver to death over the years about releasing it and then the rights were sold in a job lot to Universal and the album finally came out a decade after it was originally recorded.


'Daily Misery' was slightly different in that we'd recorded that in Haarlem as The Slobs and we actually owned it ourselves. Steve managed to get a deal with Angel Air who would only put it out as The Crybabys and as it was Darrell and I with Vom on drums it was The Crybabys.


Those heady early days of The Crybabys were special. I first met Darrell when he was 22 or 23 and he was (and still is) a magical guitarist. Along with Petter Baarli he's the most talented guitarist I've ever worked with.  




Looking back over such an incredible career is there anything you'd have done differently? I mean what about the Elvis fiasco with the record pressing plant?  Had the guy not died when he did it's entirely possible that 'First Time' would have gone top 10 maybe?  Was there any other way round that situation at the time delay like the release or was it entirely out of your hands? 


I think the big mistake was naively signing for NEMS. A few weeks later Polydor came to sign us with were prepared to put massive money into marketing the band. Unfortunately we couldn't get out of our contract with NEMS and Polydor went on to sign The Jam who received all the promotion and marketing from Polydor that would have been spent on The Boys.


There was very little we could have done about the Elvis fiasco. 'First Time' was released at the end of July and Elvis died a couple of weeks later so the single was already out there. NEMS were distributed by RCA and as soon as Elvis died RCA printed nothing but Elvis records. It was being plugged to death by John Peel and despite no promotion from NEMS it was moving up the charts not too far outside the top 50. We were contacted by the BBC and informed if the single went up the charts and into the top 50 the following week we'd be on Top Of the Pops. Unfortunately as you say 'First Time' completely sold out, no one could buy it so it slipped out of the charts and we never did appear on Top Of The Pops!




You've influenced many bands that came after you. What did you think when you heard Hanoi Rocks covering 'TCP' for example?  They always reminded me of The Boys with tracks like 'Wrong Arm Of The Law' it must be great to hear how other bands interpret your music on those tribute albums?


I love Michael Monroe's music and he's such a lovely guy it certainly was very humbling that they covered 'TCP'. To be invited by Michael to join him onstage recently and perform 'TCP' with him was a great honour.


Just to finish things off and kind of draw a line under this interview, I'm always reading about an Honest John session here and there and I'm quickly losing track of what's on the go.  Is there much material you have lying around that you'd like to get released? Isn't there an acoustic Yobs album?  Will there be a chance in the future of releasing the acoustic vinyl only album onto CD?  Or maybe a box set of unreleased tracks?


There's always more songs recorded than released so there's unreleased stuff about everywhere. The Boys two NEMS albums 'The Boys' and 'Alternative Chartbusters' are having a full makeover for a US release later in the year. There'll be some unreleased material on there including two 1976 demos and Matt's original home demo recording of 'Brickfield Nights'.


'Leads 3 Amps United 0' is the Yobs acoustic album, which was released on Receiver a few years ago but is now deleted.


My 'Untuned' album is now available in download. There are no plans to release it on CD although the "as live" acoustic recordings I made at Rockfield will probably be out on CD sometime in the future.


hjp_artwork672So there you have it folks.  There were so many questions I wanted to ask Honest John about his time with The Boys and his interests in music, but I just didn't have the time, so hopefully when the album does come out we can revisit this and do a further interview where we can chat about the specifics of the album (it's currently looking like and early 2013 date for it's release) and most importantly what's next.


Before I sign off I'd just like to say a many thanks to Steve Metcalfe for arranging this interview and doing such a sterling job with The Boys. Please visit the website and get hold of an album or three from the fantastic musician and songwriter that is Honest John Plain.





[Live photos courtesy of Roberto Pannuci, video shoot photos courtesy of the band]



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