Lawnmower Deth hold a special place in the septic tank that passes for my heart, and also a well worn spot in my wallet courtesy of their continued re-releases and insistence on playing gig bloody miles away from me. So when they were announced for this year’s Wildfire Festival, an hour from my front door, that pretty much meant I was doing nothing else that weekend.
Through the wonders of the internet, I have been in touch with Paddy for some time now (mainly courtesy of his current project Line of Fire) and was very happy to get the chance to sit down with this bunch of reprobates and chew the fat. Or slice it up with rotary blades, whatever. It also gave me an opportunity to thank/blame the guys for pretty much being to blame for laying the foundations for this very web site, as it was on their facebook page where I got talking to one Sean Merrigan who became the first numpty… erm… nice person to volunteer to help with the workload!
I arrived at the luxurious rock café on site as the band were finishing off their grub – they even got vinegar on the Table of the Stars. I’d had to make do with ketchup earlier on in the day. I made my apologies for a late appearance: “Sorry, I just had to drop the kids off”. The response from Chris P (a.k.a. Mightymo Destructimo) of “Is that a euphamism?” pretty much set the tone for the next half hour.
The first query was, of their limited appearances per year, how did they end up picking Wildfire for their first show north of the border in… twenty-five years? Discussion ensued, with most of the blame/kudos being thrown Paddy’s way for his internet connections with pretty much everyone associated with rock/metal. Until Pete summed it up succinctly: “Well, fundamentally, they asked!”
But going back all those years, where else do they remember playing in Scotland?
“The Cathouse” was the first response from most of the guys, a venue that still exists but in a different location from two decades plus ago. The one with the best memories, though, was Edinburgh’s “The Venue” located round the back of the train station. Now, there is a “Venue” there these days but whether it’s the same “crazy place” described by the band, I don’t know:
“It was proper mental. Like World War Z. That one lived up to the reputation we’d heard of – ‘they’re animals up there’! Kev got thrown into the crowd and came back stark bollock naked. Literally – you could see his Doc Marten floating around for ages afterwards. The legendary thing about The Venue is that it was a long, linear room with a heating duct running right up the middle. All you used to see were people coming down this heating duct, until they were somewhere over the pit and then they’d just let go. It was like Aliens!”
I’d seen the guys around the same time (including my first ever stage-dive) at Newcastle’s Riverside. Of course they had beer-sodden memories of that, too:
“Isn’t that where we got all boozy-woozy with Cronos? Quite bizarre. A knock on the door and there was Cronos from Venom with a load of Newcastle Brown. Then we went on stage and promptly told everyone his name was Conrad and he lived with his mum.” [the name thing is true – Conrad Lant!]
So what’s it like having reformed and actually being in demand as some kind of legend of old? From a joke band that somehow got taken seriously to an act people are finally getting to see, some for the first time?
“Kind of the same, just with more pain in the joints! People look back at it with rose-tinted spectacles thinking ‘Oh, it was marvellous’ when it was a load of bollocks, basically. It’s one of those age things – not ours, but… if you dig out a copy of Never Mind The Bollocks. In ’76-’77 it broke the mould. Now if you put it on it’s just a good time rock and roll album. We were playing bollocks like that in ’89 and now we seem to be in this mainstream slot. It’s a pretty odd place to be, to be honest. We’re incredibly lucky, to be honest, that people even bother.”
In 2008 you opened for Bullet For My Valentine in London. That was always just meant to be a one-off wasn’t it? Did you decide to do more to make it up to the people who queued up for ages then didn’t get into the venue until you’d already finished?
“We’ve actually been together longer as a reformed act now than we were originally because of that gig. Some one-off. We do less gigs and we’ve not released as many albums though! The gig was great, but the fact that people didn’t get in wasn’t brilliant. At least any of our fans who got in found they could get to the bar as nobody else was old enough to drink… But Andy Copping was on the side of the stage and as we walked off he said ‘Don’t go on holiday – you’re playing Donington’. And good to his word, he booked us. Four times.
“Actually, back when Download was Monsters of Rock we were looked at properly for it. Morris turned up but I think we just scared the shit out of him and we were never booked.
“It was genuinely meant to be a one-off. Play the gig then walk away and say goodbye again, but it worked out well for Paddy. He rehearsed with us, but couldn’t play the gig because he was on holiday or something. Unlike a lot of bands we actually are mates, so it’s a chance for a knees up and a laugh. Not like trying to get Acid Reign back together or something!
When’s the next album coming out, then?
“We released one last year. Re-issued. And one before that. Re-issued. How many more do you want?! We’re actually re-releasing everything in order. We’re like Doctor Who. We’ll re-release Bozo Clowns next, then Billy and that’ll be the end of it again. I think Earache have about 8 million copies of those still kicking around. They could just re-issue it from the warehouse.”
Why did people hate Billy so much? It was slated on release, but speaking personally I thought it was a great album.
“Well, Bozo Clowns was Kev’s influence because it was quite bloody hard to play. You can play a guitar, we can’t! It was difficult to play live, whereas Billy was more simple, easy stuff. That was all Chris’s [Flint – drummer] fault because all he can manage is the old bm-tsh-bm-tsh, but I don’t think it was supposed to sound so poppy. When we came out of the studio it did sound a lot more hard and in-your-face, but then we made the mistake of not getting involved with the mastering. When we got the tapes home it sounded really good, but when we got the pressings… what happened to it? It was like someone had put a blanket over it and it was all poppy.
There’s no two ways about it, nobody liked that album when it came out. People hated it. But a lot of them are going back to it and seem to like it now.”
A quick query as to which was the band’s favourite album brought back a unanimous response of Ooh, Crikey… almost. Pete swayed a little.
“Ooh, I was going to say Clowns, but I’ll say Crikey as it was the best time we had. First time in a proper studio together. We just had an absolute blast making that album. But I still like Clowns as an album to listen to.”
Steve and Chris P. added: “Ooh Crikey is just great to listen to. When we got back together and listened to the album to learn the songs again, it was like just discovering this great new album. I think because we were just practising and rehearsing and everything else… and we’re rubbish… you didn’t hear what it was until it had been recorded. Then Steve Harris chucked us out so he could mix it. When we came back and heard it, it sounded big and massive. That’s us! The whole thing was just one big, fun, piss-up laugh all the way through.”
“It’s raw as well. A real punk metal album. Steve was great. We had another guy who came to produce – Colin Richards – and that just wasn’t going to work at all. He kept sticking his head in Chris’ drums and saying he needed to get new drumskins. Click tracks were mentioned. We tried a click track with him [Chris] once, and it was the funniest thing you’ve ever seen. You have to have headphone and and he headbangs when he’s playing, so we had to tape them to his head. And then the look on his face saying ‘what’s that horrible noise? A click track? What am I supposed to do with that?’
“Steve used to do Acid Reign’s albums and they sounded spot on, all in time whereas ours were all over the shop. Warped vinyl is what it sounded like. Steve Harris is a proper producer – he went on to do U2 – and he kept telling us that we had no sense of timing. We thought he meant that we weren’t playing to the drums. ‘You start at this pace – tap-tap-tap – and end up like taptaptaptaptaptap by the end’. We couldn’t do it like normal bands where you record the drums then add the other bits. We all had to be there to see each other nod and stuff – your turn now!
“Yeah, a lot of work went into those six second tracks.”
“Messing about in the studio got us some of the sounds we needed. Like ‘Sheepdip’ – all those sounds are from a Casio keyboard. There was loads of stuff on that album that came from buggering about with Casio keyboards! Except for the sheep. The sheep were us. We had to audition to see who did the best sheep noises. It took about forty attempts because we couldn’t stop laughing.
“Now remember this is Steve Harris. He went on to do Kaiser Chief’s first album that was ma-hoosive. U2. Dave Matthews Band. And this man made us stand and go ‘baa’ to work out who went ‘baa’ best.
“We must be a lucky charm. Andy Copping used to be DJ at Rock City and he asked us he could promote us – we were the first band he ever put on. It’s all gone downhill for him since then.”
As a parent, I’m kind of… crap. I don’t know any of the classic lullabies, or I just don’t want to sing them. When our youngest was born I used to sing her to sleep with “Weeble Wobble”, “Got The Clap” (I know…), “Ooh Crikey”, “Watch Out Grandma” and others. Because I knew the word. I asked the band what tracks from their back catalogue they reckoned would make good lullabies.
“Icky Ficky. Or an acoustic version of Sheepdip. Slow, sheep noises… maybe move it into a whales and dolphins kind of thing! Don’t worry, kids grow out of this stuff after a while. My kids [Pete] are in their teens and they just think it’s sad.”
But what about getting started? So many bands these days set out with that big stage, festival performance in their sights. What was different for Lawnmower Deth?
“The reason we got into a band, whether we were good, bad or indifferent – and we were bad, still are! – was because we were fans of music. We’re all still just metal geeks, which is why we’re still in a band.
“But back then it was all about just titting about in parents’ front rooms. You read these biographies and so many people are driven. They want to be rock stars. We didn’t. We just wanted to make a racket. We didn’t even want to play gigs. We just saw an advert Chris had put up saying that Lawnmower Deth were playing some gigs and we thought ‘what a great name for a band, let’s go and see them’. Turned out it ws ust him on his own and the gigs didn’t exist! It was all just made up to get into Kerrang. We got his name then went through the phone book ringing every Flint until we found him.
We found him and even then it wasn’t meant to be any more than just messing about.”
What would Lawnmower Deth have been called if it hadn’t been called Lawnmower Deth?
Chris F: “There was no real thought behind it. It’s done this demo in my bedroom and needed a name for the band. There were a lot of bands around with ‘Death’ in the title and I thought I’d jump on that bandwagon. Now, what’s a stupid ‘death’ name…? I didn’t expect it to go any further than that demo anyway.
“Kerrang reviewed it and printed my picture – took it more seriously than I expected – along with the imaginary gig list… and the rest is history.”
One of your best-known songs is the cover of “Kids in America”. Have you ever actually met Kim Wilde?
“No, but she follows Pete on Twitter and they’ve had conversations… or whatever passes or conversation on Twitter. She really likes the song. There’s a video of her on YouTube, or used to be, being interviewed and they play her covers of her songs and she’d already heard ours. She loved it!
It came about when we were working on Ooh, Crikey. We were sat having dinner when it came on MTV and we just though ‘we could really punk that up’. It was our first video, too. The whole green screen thing was done in Steve’s dad’s conservatory [I think, not 100% sure from my recording! Mosh]. He came in, smoking this pipe, and asked ‘what’s going in here? Filming a video. Right. See you later,’ and walked out again.
The outside bits were filmed on the Queen’s cousin’s farm. You can tell it had an expensive budget! The bets bit was where they’re running down a lane being chased by a lawnmower… the mower was strapped to the back of a hire car. It braked suddenly and the mower smashed into the window. The cost of replacing the window was more than the entire budget for the video!”
Huge thanks to the guys for their time, and when they say they’re still mates who play in a band together they mean it. Sitting with them for half an hour was just like watching a bunch of friends talk about old times – not like an interview at all. They put on a great set that night, too – the review will be up shortly along with all the other stuff from Wildfire.
In the meantime… here’s that video. They don’t make ’em like this any more. Thank fu…