Duncan Reid - Uber Rock Interview Exclusive Print E-mail
Written by Dom Daley   
Sunday, 04 November 2012 04:30

When he was a young lad Duncan Reid's ambition was to become the next George Best, but like most youngsters he was lacking in the required talent to actually make it as a footballer.  Whatever skills he lacked on the football pitch though he most certainly more than made up for in the singing/bass playing department, and pretty soon the now wannabe frontman was picking up his guitar and joining forces with a bunch of like mined musicians who would turn out to quite possibly one of the most influential UK punk bands of all time - The Boys.


The rest as they say is history, well documented history in fact, and that is something which I won't go into any further here, but I think it is worth mentioning that I witnessed a very large part of that history last summer when I saw Duncan and The Boys play one of their last shows together (at Rebellion in Blackpool) before the onetime wannabe Belfast Boy set off for pastures new as solo artist. 


Following the release of his debut solo album which he openly admits was three decades plus in the writing I thought I'd take some time to catch up with the man now know affectionately as 'Little Big Head' to find out what exactly it was that made him make such a musical leap of faith, and what he is looking to achieve by going out on his own.




Duncan_1Hi Duncan can we start with why now for a solo album and not 10 - 20 or more years ago when everyone around you was doing it?


Well, it's very easy to answer the question about 20 years ago because at that time I was busy raising a family and following a career with no intention at all of ever playing music again. 10 years ago was about 4 years after The Boys had got back together and I was very happy and satisfied with that.


Plus, it was only in the last couple of years that I started writing songs so it was only just before I started to record the album that I was ready to do it.


As I said on the CD sleeve, the album was 35 years in the making with most of that time taken up living my life and getting the experience and confidence to do it.


So was it a difficult move to walk away from the Boys?


That's a far more complicated question than you can imagine. Being in The Boys was wonderful in so many ways. Being in a great, iconic band that get offers to play all over the world was, of course, fantastic. But it was time to go and time to give it a shot trying something new.

Was it at all daunting or did you always have a plan for a solo record?


I've thought about that a lot. It certainly wasn't consciously planned but possibly subconsciously it had been coming for a while, I'm not sure. At first it was very, very lonely, daunting and nerve wracking. Don't forget, I not only went solo but also decided to play nearly all the instruments on my record myself. There was plenty of scope for it all to go horribly wrong.

As the record came together, though, it started to become a seriously glorious process. Hearing the final mixes and how great they sounded was such a happy time. Then starting to play gigs, especially playing to people who don't know who I am, and seeing the reaction to the new songs has been one of the best things I've done. Playing with new, enthusiastic musicians like Alex Gold has been brilliant and it's invigorating starting again, fighting for all the breaks you can get


You've already mention it was initially at times a lonely creative process but does it give you more confidence now to get on and write some more and immediately follow up 'Little Big Head' and strike whilst the iron is hot so to speak?


Oh without doubt. The feedback I've received has been such a boost. Every time someone orders the CD is a triumph for me, especially when it's someone who's never heard of me, who says that so and so played it to them and they've got to have it. I'll carry on writing. I've already got about seven songs. When I think I've got enough I'll think about making another record. At the moment I'm concentrating on getting this one out to as many ears as possible.


Where does the finished album rank with your musical achievements to date?


Well, for me, it's the most important thing I've done, but that's because it's the most me, and the first album to predominantly have my playing and writing on it. It's for others to judge how it compares to other records I've been involved with. I guess many will consider the first 2 Boys albums to be the most significant records I'll have played on because they were part of changing the world musically. I think The Mattless Boys record is up there with everything we did. It was a big stepping stone for me as I put a lot into it including writing.


Duncan_4Who will be in your touring band? Will it be a revolving door policy of who's available at the time or would you like to have a settled line up?


I'd really like a settled band but it will depend on who is available. I originally asked Alex Gold to audition as a drummer for The Boys and he has played with them without me. He's one of those people who can play anything so with me he is on keyboards and guitar. I put my foot down when he turned up to rehearse 'Too Late' with a glockenspiel. We'd end up touring with an articulated truck if we took everything along he could play. He's even dumped a double bass on me, which he played a gig without ever having played it before in his life! He writes the most complicated songs so it's going to be interesting to see if we can write together. A young Polish lady called Anna, who is Ron Wood's guitar tech, is also on guitar and we have Gilles, a Frenchman, on drums.


When you listened back to the finished album was it pretty much on the money as to what you expected it to sound like when you began recording? Or did any of the songs change whilst in the recording process?


I'd recorded demos of all of the songs at home on the computer and superficially all of the finished album sounds like the demos. So to that extent, they sounded like I expected - but better. What was a great surprise, listening to the mix, was hearing all the different sounds Tony Barber had put on instruments to make the songs more interesting and layered. For instance, listen to the way different guitar sounds come and go on 'Kelly's Gone Insane'. Then there's the great playing from the guest players, Vom Ritchie, Nigel Banks and James Stephenson.


So how much advice or influence did you take off the people around you, and what degree of input did the likes of James Stephenson have on 'Little Big Head' overall? 


95% of the album was made by me and Tony Barber in Tony's shed. Me singing and playing and Tony acting like a mad, knob twiddling professor. And when I say shed, I mean shed. Think of a wooden B&Q job at the bottom of a garden and you won't be far off. For both of us it was a leap of faith. Did I know whether he knew what he was doing when he recorded a guitar through a 2-inch speaker when initially it sounded crap? Did he know whether I could play keyboards on a whole album when my keyboard playing is like a two fingered typist? When we started recording it might be just my crappy keyboard playing with an artificial drum machine track. We worked together on ideas but it was only as the tracks grew, as the proper drums went on with all the backing vocals etc that you could hear it was going to sound great.


Were there any similarities to recording on your own compared to when you did the Boys records?


There were absolutely no similarities at all really. The Boys would rehearse songs as a band with all the members having input. That would include Jack Black and I even though we hadn't written many of the songs. We'd then go into a proper studio, as opposed to a shed, and put down drums, bass and guitar all together. It's still a great way to record if you can do it since you have the bedrock of the track straight away. The drawback with it, especially in the old pre digital, analogue days was that you had to keep recording a track till you got it right, with no mistakes. That could be inhibiting and sometimes, if it took a lot of takes, the track could sound tired.


Digital recording has a lot in common with writing a document using Word. You can just bash down your thoughts on a computer. You can then go back and correct your typos and edit the document, deleting sections and adding others. You can literally do that in a recording studio now, bashing down a basic track, going back deleting the bum notes and replacing them, often with something you played somewhere else. If you think you put too many choruses in you just cut one out. If you think the ending should be a fade out you copy a load of choruses from somewhere else in the song and stick them on the end.


The disadvantage is you can lose some of the live feel, but you don't have to. The advantage is that you are free to make mistakes without messing things up for everyone and having to start again. So, it can be fresher and more imaginative.


Duncan_2What sort of feedback (if any) have you had off your former band mates?


Umm. None as yet.


Lots of people reading this will no doubt want to hear a few words about your time in The Boys.  What would you describe as being the best time in the band?


I've just finished reading a book called The Rhythm Method by Nicky Forbes who was drummer for The Revillos. Everyone should read it to find out what it was like being in a band in the 70s. It bought back so many memories of long journeys, dodgy hotels, squabbles and mistakes which all young musicians were destined to make, held together by great gigs. And that's the thing; it was the gigs and the people met along the way which made it so special. The 2 eras were very different. The first as a young band, changing the world, destined, or so we thought, to be the next Rolling Stones, but ultimately being disappointed. The second after a gap of 18 years being frankly surprised and delighted that people all over the world suddenly knew who the hell we were and also being surprised that we could still be so damned good. I have to say; the second era was a lot more fun because that's all it was - fun.


Also looking back at your career with The Boys where do you think you guys fitted in?  It has been suggested they were too powerpop for punk but too punk for powerpop. Would that be a fair assessment?


I've never really thought about powerpop although it seems to be a title people are putting on me now, obviously because my songs are very poppy. For many punks The Boys were too pop but, for me, The Ramones were a pop band. Just listen to 'Sheena Is A Punk Rocker'. What we added were harmonies and that made us sound even poppier, but many people have copied it since. I remember one review of a Holidays in the Sun festival we played in Morecambe where the reviewer tried to put us down by calling us Showaddywaddy in black.


I sort of liked that in an odd way!  (laughing)


The Boys always seemed to do well on the mainland of Europe is there anything you can specifically pin this down to?


It was always more of a level playing field there because the UK music press had very little influence, as did the political aspects of punk. The audiences would just see the bands live, listen to the records and make their own minds up.


Duncan_3I always thought that on the rare occasion The Boys played the UK, the gigs were great, like Rebellion last year. Do you wish there were more gigs in the UK?


Yeah, last year's 2011 Rebellion gig was special, as were our gigs at ULU and the Barfly. Overall I think we struck a good balance. It was always great playing in far-flung places like Texas, South America and Japan, and we got a pretty great reaction there as well. One thing I'd like to do more with the new album is play more outside London. I know it's hard to get a good crowd but I bet we can crack it.


Will there be a chance for fans in the UK to see you play the new album in the near future and would you include Boys material (if you would what songs would you play)


As we speak I have just played 2 London dates, at The Lexington back in September and The 100 Club just the other week. We are currently working on further UK dates for November and December. So please keep an eye on http://www.littlebighead.co.uk/. Yes, there will be a few Boys tunes. I couldn't leave out 'First Time' now, could I?


Before we say "goodbye" we do like to know what musicians are currently listening to, so do you have an Ipod or MP3 player handy? If you do could you put it on shuffle and give us the next five songs that crop up (laughing)


This could be embarrassing.


Okay it's come up with:


'AKA....What A Life!' by Noel Gallagher's Flying Birds

'Roll Away The Stone' by Mott the Hoople

'(All I Can Do Is) Dream You' by Roy Orbison

'Who Loves You' by Franki Valli

'I Get A Kick Out Of You' by Frank Sinatra


I've got over 6,000 songs on this thing and it just as easily could have chosen 'Teach Yourself Spanish the Michel Thomas way' (laughing)


So thanks to Duncan for his time and don't forget you can head over to http://www.littlebighead.co.uk/ where you can get the album and keep up to date with what he is up to.




[Photographs courtesy of David Apps]


To pick up a copy of 'Little Big Head' on Amazon - CLICK HERE