THE VALVES: AIN’T NO SURF IN PORTOBELLO
I’m riding on the crest of an oil-slick / but I don’t care / I’ve got the smell of freshly treated sewage / blowing through my hair.
Bands announcing that they’re getting back together is seldom a surprise nowadays.
In the last decade we’ve had The Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin and The Stone Roses deciding to share the same stage once again. Pink Floyd, who we were repeatedly told would never-ever-ever get back together managed four songs for Live-8 and, as I write, there’s a rumour that one of headlining acts at Glastonbury 2014 will be. . . Abba.
But it’s not just the big names guaranteed to accumulate big bucks through playing arena shows and festivals who are going down the reformation route. Earlier this year The Jazzateers reappeared after a gap of decades and now – and this did somehow surprise me – it’s the turn of the group once described in Hanging Around fanzine as Edinburgh’s finest rocka-boogie combo.
Yep, after a gap of around 33 years, The Valves are back and with the same line up from their late 70s heyday: Dave Robertson aka Dee Robot (vocals), Ronnie Mackinnon (guitar), Gordon ‘Pada’ Scott (bass) and Gordon ‘Teddy’ Dair (drums).
Being a fan myself since I bought their debut single Robot Love/For Adolfs’ Only and then saw them support The Rezillos at Satellite City in Glasgow, I thought I’d ask Pada Scott – in the run up to their show at Edinburgh’s Liquid Room tomorrow night – about the reasons behind the reunion and also find out more about the track that I’ve selected as the latest in my 7 x 7: 1977 series, Ain’t No Surf on Portobello released by Zoom Records at the tail end of 1977 – and I’ll be writing about Zoom in more detail in 2014 in my Scottish Independents series which I haven’t really forgotten about. Honestly.
So Pada, what has prompted the band to get back together after all this time?
The royalties for ‘Adolf’ finally run out, so we had to start working again. Actually – triggered by a Japanese vinyl buff asking for permission to produce a 12” album of our singles, demos, live stuff etc, we started the ball rolling on the gig as a publicity stunt for the album, but the publishing and copyright ownerships for the songs was so convoluted and labyrinth-y that we gave up on trying to assemble it and we’ve stowed the idea (temporarily, we hope). But the interest in the gig was so encouraging we couldn’t pull out.
Hopefully the reunion will help the idea come to fruition.
We hope so, but we could do with some advice for negotiating rights/royalties etc. from our 35-year-old catalogue with someone who’s been round that course already.
And how are the rehearsals going?
Great – the instrumental 75% of the band have been rehearsing at Banana Row on and off for 3-4 months and will be working even harder now that Dave is in town. Ah, but the falsetto backing vocals may be lost in the mists of time. We ain’t juveniles no more.
Any new songs?
We’re doing a couple of post-Valves songs by Dave at the gig.
Excellent. And do you envisage the show as being a one off or are you planning more dates (in, say, Glasgow, hint, hint)?
Very probably a one-off as Dave lives in Antwerp and needs to get back for Christmas. And logistically it’s hard getting the four of us together for any length of time. But, who knows?
So what have all the Valves been getting up to since splitting up all those years ago?
I joined the Mudsharks with Dave, Stuart Nisbet, Keith Burns, Alan Marshall (and another sax player whose name I’ve shamefacedly forgotten). After a year or so, this band split and I’ve been a civilian ever since. Worked in IT for Scottish Office and Scottish Equitable. Took early retirement a couple of years ago but am loving playing in the band again.
Ronnie – played with the Mudsharks and then Fun City.
Gordon – still gigging and did some band management. Owns the ‘Soundtrack to Your Life’ record shop in Tollcross, Edinburgh. Gordon has played in the Gordon Dair Trio, Plats Combinats and El Rey de los Pantalones.
Dave – Gigged with the Mudsharks, did some poetry in Edinburgh, moved to Belgium and played in various bands (the Vikings, Kiss my Jazz etc.)
You were in a pub rock band called Angel Easy in the mid 1970s, what sort of stuff did you play and what was the music scene in Edinburgh like pre-punk?
Angel Easy was the first band that Gordon and I played in, with a couple of guitarist mates from Lochgelly/Cowdenbeath – played covers by the bands we liked – SAHB, Babe Ruth, Traffic (8 minute version of Low Spark of High Heeled Boys – quality!), Man, Burrito Brothers, Steve Miller, Fleetwood Mac. Our publicity poster was a copy of the pic on the back of Todd Rundgren’s ‘Runt’ album which speaks volumes. We were a wee bit different as other bands (e.g. Brodie) were technically more proficient, but you can only hear so many versions of Locomotive Breath, Smoke on the Water etc.
I’ve heard that people always told you played too fast until punk came along.
When Dave joined, we started doing his songs but they weren’t particularly fast (as I dimly recall).
Why and when did you become Valves?
After Dave joined Angel Easy, we were playing different music so we changed our name to ‘Sale’ (don’t even ask. . .). As the number of gigs and venue size increased, Bruce Findlay showed interest (especially after a support gig at Tiffany’s) and we thought there could possibly be a snappier name out there (and yet we still didn’t find it).
And how long before Bruce signed you up to Zoom?
Sale were only going for a month before Bruce heard us and signed us up. And we could have gone with Lenny Love too. . .
How did Ain’t No Surf in Portobello come about?
Ask our resident genius Dave. It’s basically ‘Surf City’ by Jan and Dean with bits from other surfing songs. It was swapped to the B-side of our second single as we were worried about legal implications if it was played on the radio as an A-side. . .
Are any of the band actually from Porty?
None – the Gordons are from Lochgelly, Ronnie’s from Meadowbank and Dave’s from Sighthill.
And what about the inspiration for the fantastically titled Tarzan of the Kings Road?
Just Dave’s fertile imagination – and he did buy bondage trousers at one point.
You had quite a reputation for enjoying a bevvy or two, is this still the case in 2013 or are you all reformed characters?
We did like a drink, but no more than any four guys with a common purpose and some spare time. We’re a bit more restrained now, but no-one’s on the wagon yet and we still enjoy a fine ale.
You headlined the Edinburgh Carnival Against the Nazis (I was there myself but my memory of the day is a bit vague after me and my pal met some Skids and drank lots of vodka with them). Any special memories of that day?
The heat (unusual for Craigmillar, I know) and the fact that we weren’t booed off after the Clash failed to show* – a nice generous audience.
Any theories on why The Valves didn’t become better known?
We weren’t as ambitious and single-minded as others, and we were considered punky by some rock fans and too old-school (and old) for the punks. And once the New Romantics came along, well f**k that for a game of soldiers.
And finally, your chance to sell yourselves. Why should the good folk of Edinburgh (and elsewhere) buy a ticket to see you at the Liquid Room?
’Cos it probably ain’t gonna happen again, it’s your last chance to sing along to these songs, it’s gonna be good fun and it’ll give everyone a chance to see if they’ve aged as badly as their long-lost mates.
Should be a cracking night. Enjoy yourself! I’m sure the audience will.
The Valves play the Liquid Room in Edinburgh on Saturday 21st December 2013.
Doors open at 7 pm. The DJ will be Colin D’uff and the support act will be William Douglas & The Wheel, who’ll be on from 7.30 – 8.00. The mighty Valves will take to the stage at around 8.30 until 9.45. And as the band note on their website: ‘There is an absolute curfew at 10. You will be thrown out in the streets but…. Don’t worry. It’s not love you and leave you. We might have a surprise in store… X.’
Concert Tickets: Liquid Room Edinburgh
For more on The Valves
* The organisers of the Carnival hit on the idea of pretending The Clash were going to headline the bill to swell the attendance, which certainly worked. Whether it was a good idea, when you want people to trust whatever you are going to say afterwards, is far less certain.