Newport Power trio 60 ft Dolls had to be the most under appreciated of the so called ‘Cool Cymru’ wave. While the likes of Stereophonics, Gorkys, Catatonia, Super Furry Animals broke through to some extent, the Dolls bubbled under with great spiky songs like debut single ‘Happy Shopper’ about a transvestite in a discount store, ‘Pig Valentine’, ‘Hair’ and ‘Stay’.Each one infused with an pummeling urgency and spiked with up and at ’em melodies that told witty, twisted suburban tales: these songs were full of heart. I remember seeing them in 1997 and of Catatonia, Gene and Stereophonics that played that day, they really stood out as a kickass band, therefore it was a mystery to me why they never made the break that they really deserved.
Singer/songerwriter Richard J Parfitt and bassist Mike Cole met in a dole que and later joined forces with Carl Bevan. In the mid 90s, 60 ft Dolls were feted by the NME and John Peel they were at the spearhead of the Newport scene at the legendary TJs that Spin once daubed ‘The New Seattle’ in the early 90s, such was the breeding ground for noise bands it became. With a corking debut album 1996’s ‘The Big 3’ and a fearsome reputation for storming live shows and support slots with everyone from Veruca Salt to Oasis and the Sex Pistols they were riding high(quite literally). Then things hit a unceremonious wall with their second most diverse album 1998’s ‘Joy Magica’, tragically they were dropped by their label just before they were about to release it and bar the awesome lead single ‘Allison’s Room’ it pretty much sunk without trace.
I caught up with Carl Bevan, best known in the Dolls the for his infectously manic drum playing and now for his great new female fronted soul-rock hurricane, outfit the Lash. For a delve into the 60 Ft Dolls, plus to ask him his thoughts on Newport, attempts to pigeonhole them as Britpop, Cool Cymru and what he’s up to now. Over to you Carl…
Hi Carl, how are you?
4/10…when I go to the studio later it will be upgraded to an 8/10. However, if I get back to my flat first and find out that the electric blanket I accidentally left on (how rock and roll is that?) has burned it down, then 0/10
When did you take up drumming?!
I started playing guitar at the age of 8. When I was 11 years old we used to go to this old church which was quite spooky if you were there on your own. My mother was the flower arranger and she made a deal with me that if I came with her to keep her company, I could leather nine bells of fuck out of the old premier drum kit they had there. Next thing I know I am in the forest cutting down two straight sticks from a tree and constructing my own kit out of pots and pans in my bedroom. I nagged my Dad for a drum kit and he eventually bought me one two years later. I started playing three times a week in his church to a large congregation. I also played a packed Birmingham NEC when I was 16 for a national church conference. It was a great musical education; church musicians are normally of a high standard. When you are not allowed to drink until the room spins and shag groupies like normal musicians do, then the only thing left for kicks is to learn the Mixolydian scale in every key until you can do it at lightning speed. The way my Dad ‘did church’ it can be any of 600+ songs at any time, so you had to be on the ball constantly.
I read that your father is a pastor that must have been a interesting upbringing!??
I thought It was completely normal at the time but, yes, ‘interesting’ is certainly the word.
When I was 8 he joined an organisation that had a 3000 seater circus tent and planned on taking it to Spain to convert the Catholics. He was the singer in the band and hadn’t done any serious singing since he was in a band with his brother Robert in the late 60s. They were signed to Decca records at that time. Robert went on to become a disco pioneer in Canada and was very successful charting hit records (including a number one)and hosted his own TV show with his wife Cheryl. They had the likes of ABBA and Grace Jones on as guests. I was always told stories about Robbie’s TV show when I was a kid. It wasn’t until YouTube arrived that I finally got to see it.
We lived in Spain for a year and went on tour for some of the time. The band were great – fantastic musicians. They generally got run out of town (literally ) with pissed off Catholics throwing rocks at our van! I was fully into the church until I was 17 and a few great friends of mine showed me the dark side of the force, which was a lot more fun than church and I began to develop my own ideas about the universe. I left home and joined 60ft Dolls when I was 19. Not long after that we had a record deal and were touring. I think a lot of my bad behaviour in that period was an extreme knee-jerk reaction to my very restricted and somewhat bizarre upbringing. I went straight from church to rock and roll band with out passing ‘GO’. I was let off the leash and ran like a bat out of hell. Pastor’s kids generally go one way or the other; I think I went a little off the scale. I will have the pleasure of producing my Dad`s final solo album this year – it’s really nice for us to be able to do that together he has made some great music over the years and has one of the most emotive voices I have heard. He can also wail like Ian Gillan when required. I’m really looking forward to the unusual situation of me squeezing great vocal performances out of him in the studio.
When and where did you meet the rest of the 60 ft dolls? What role did Donna Matthews(Elastica) play in the band’s formation?
I hadn’t played for a year after being sacked from my church drum stool due to being spotted up town inebriated. (I used to climb down the drainpipe from my bedroom window when my parents were asleep like Tom Sawyer.) One night, I was attempting to buy some weed from a guy I knew and asked him if he knew anybody who was looking for a drummer. He said, “Go to the Riverside Tavern, there will be a strange-looking man with two blokes sat at the table who are looking for a drummer, go and ask them.” So I did, and there they were as predicted. Richard said he knew I was the drummer within 10 seconds. Donna was dating Mike who introduced him to Richard at the time, I believe.
When talking about the 60ft Dolls people throw around comparisons to the Jam, the Clash and other punky bands with a social consciousness. But which bands/records/sounds really united you as a three piece?
We all loved your staple punk and mod stuff and were all huge Beatles and Beach Boys fans. We used to listen to things like Pavement, The Fall, The Small Faces. There is a record by the Posies called ‘Frosting on the Beater’ that we loved, also Urge Overkill ‘Saturation’. <strong> Elliott Smith‘s ‘Either/Or’ was permanently in the van CD player for about a year. It was an honour to hang out with him in New York while we were doing the second album. We were drinking in a bar, just us and the barmaid and a really drunk guy in a baseball cap at the end of a the bar. I spotted his bull tattoo and recognised it as Elliott`s. Someone said, “Hey Elliott” and he looked up – it was him. He was smashed and very upset about something, so we ended up joining him and hit it off. He was going to play guitar on our ‘Joya Magica’ record, but it never happened in the end. I was mortified when he died. The guy was an actual, real life genius.
Spin called Newport ‘the new Seattle’ in the early 90s, and TJs was a big hub for the explosion of bands in that period. What are your favourite memories of TJs and what were your favourite bands of the time?
Newport was a fantastic place to be a musician in during that period and TJ’s was by far the best club/venue on the face of the earth. Everyone was accepted in TJs, it was ‘home’ to a lot of people and galvanised the whole scene along with Le Pub, which I am very happy to say is still a great venue today. Bands supported each other then and there was a great sense of camaraderie. It was a genuine scene and it felt like a community, something that Newport is lacking today.
My favourite band at the time was Novocaine – Steve Evans voice was fucking awesome. I shared a house with him for a while at the time. I also liked Rollerco and the Five Darrens. There were so many good bands at the time – I think I sat down and counted 80 in about 1996.
What do you remember about recording your debut album the Big Three?! It has a real energy even when you listen back today! Your first single ‘Happy Shopper’ based upon a real incident in the cheap food chain, or the product of Rich’s imagination?! What’s your favourite 60 ft dolls song? And why!?I am a fan of Stay!
‘The Big 3’ is actually due to be re-released this June on a label with a collection of B sides and rarities, the three of us are getting together soon.
We recorded the album in Rockfield , that hallowed mecca that has produced so many classic albums over the years. Producer Al Clay made me polish my drums and cymbals before he even put a mic anywhere near the kit. He was very disciplined which was perfect for us at the time. Other Producers on the shortlist were Bernard Butler and Pete Townsend believe it or not.
I can remember asking who was in studio B at about three in the morning only to find out it was Ash. We decided we’d better introduce ourselves and descended on the then teenagers like filthy debauched drunk uncles at a wedding. We ended up touring with Ash a great deal and got into lots of trouble together – great fun. Most notably the gaffer tape codpiece stage invasion incident in Nottingham where me and Mike invaded the stage during the last Ash number. I jumped into the crowd but somebody ripped my pants off and we were banned from the venue for onstage nudity and having a backstage firehose/washing detergent fight after the show.
The recording itself was peppered with anecdotes from the great Kingsley Ward who would pop in covered in cow shit and say things like “There was me Robert Plant and Freddy Mercury in a Rolls Royce…” and “Let me tell you about the time I invented stereo.” Recording would stop until he had finished a few hours worth of such amazing stories (some printable). I do remember being wrapped up in cling film from head to toe by Mike and being mercilessly shot with a BB gun and abandoned somewhere to wriggle my way back. I used to get wrapped up in something or other on tour quite often, like a carpet for instance and taken somewhere, maybe to keep me out of trouble I guess.
Happy shopper: All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
My Fave song is probably a b-side called ‘Pissfunk’ which was designed to take the first three layers of skin off an audiences face as an opening live track.
You signed a deal with Geffen records(Nirvana et al) in the USA, how did that come about?
Jim powers was out seeing one of his bands Veruca Salt and we were on the bill. He came into our dressing room and offered us a deal just like that. Fast forward a few months and I’m dancing with Isaac Hays in Los Angeles wearing no trousers (again)
60ft Dolls are listed as a Britpop band on Wikipedia. Did you feel any kinship with the bands in that scene or did you feel like it was something that was just going on at the time mainly in London that you were lumped alongside?
Nah, not at all . We were a rock and roll band with pop sensibilities. Our UK label tried to market us as Supergrass I think, but it was never really us.
What is your abiding memory of the Britpop period, good or bad?! You toured with the likes of Oasis, Elastica, Veruca Salt and Dinosaur Jr. Plus opened for the Sex Pistols on their comeback show. People often talk glowingly about the explosive live shows, but what was your favourite live show the 60 ft Dolls played?
‘Britpop’ was a word you read in the weekly music papers a lot but it didn’t mean a whole lot to us. There are a few shows that really stick out for me; Barons in Swansea was very emotional, there was a real party vibe with the crowd, they came to fucking ROCK and no mistake. They were crashing on to the unbarriered stage in waves and singing all the words. I am originally from down that way and spent most of the gig with tears of joy rolling down my face. Glastonbury ’97 was awesome, because obviously – it was Glastonbury. Second stage, early evening and we played a great show. Then I lost control of my legs for two days, I think I overdid it slightly.
Your drug intake was legendary did it sometimes fuel your playing do you think? Melody Maker liked to document your more drug addled interviews.. Was there a point where you thought that drugs weren’t enjoyable anymore?
We were quite focused live actually; we had a two drink rule before the gig which was habitually broken by Mike Cole who may or may not have drunk a bottle of rum. Afterwards though we did like to relax with a ‘few drinks’. It was never about the drugs really with us but the demon drink, erm, I didn’t inhale ok?
‘Cool Cymru’ came a bit later and along with the Super Furries, Phonics, Gorkys, Catatonia et al you were pigeonholed in a wave of bands taking Welsh music over the border. How do you feel about it now, Huw Williams talked about it being part of a concerted effort to promote Wales by the Welsh government ?
Yeah maybe, it doesn’t really matter though. The fact is there was some seriously high quality music coming out of our magic little nation during the 90s and that spoke for itself. I’m glad to have been a part of that in some way at the time. Prior to ‘Cool Cymru’ (if you want to call it that), Welsh music was generally ridiculed by the London based industry and had no chance of being taken seriously. It’s great to think that the precedent is now set permanently in the opposite way.
Your second album ‘Joya Magica’ was released after you had already been dropped that seems like a real shame?! You spent quite a few years away from the music scene what did you get up too?
We got dropped because (alleged) paedophile Jonathan King was brought in at a high level as a consultant and advised that our label Indolent should be canned. This meant that the Dolls, Sleeper and lovely Swedes the Wannadies also got the chop. We managed to get the rights to both albums from the label and released Joya Magica ourselves.
After we officially split up, I went straight into a horrible call-centre job which was soul destroying. I remember going to Japan for a final tour (how spinal tap is that?) leaving work on a Thursday, flying to Japan to play to screaming kids, then back to my desk on the Tuesday to advise some patronising bastard when the next train to Waterloo was. I then bought a flat, started a family, tried to give up music and was extremely miserable.
I couldn’t take it anymore and bought a MAC and protools rig for fear of losing my sanity. Started messing around writing silly songs. Then around 2008 a friend of mine and me were given access to a studio in Newport to help out with their bills in the down time. Eventually, we ended up moving in permanently and Adam Walton asked me to produce the live sessions for his BBC show. I had a great time meeting the best bands in Wales and made many good friends through the sessions. When John Sicolo died there was a tribute memorial gig for him in Newport and many of the 90s bands reformed in his honour. The Dolls couldn’t do it so I played with a three chord punk band called The Drains that I used to play with at the time for the laughs. After that dose of much missed adrenaline I knew it was time to get back in the saddle and obey that harsh and cruel mistress that is music. I formed Lavish & The Debts who were the precursor to The Lash. I think that music decides when it’s done with you and not the other way around.
How did your new band The Lash form and what are your future plans?!You also produced Exit international’s debut album is production something you would like to spend more time on?
The Lash were formed from bumping into various talented beautiful people in the current Newport music scene. Erin McNamara is a rare vocal talent indeed, an absolute natural who had a great musical education from her father’s (Mike from Big Macs Wholly Soul band) record collection of soul and rock and roll. We share a love of the same filthy stinky music and it’s a joy to work with a singer of that calibre. I had worked with the very tasteful Chris Vinnicombe with while producing a single for his band the Elephant Rescue Plan, Joe (Joey Tourette’s) Kelly is a very talented singer songwriter in his own right that we dragged along with us and Kyle Haggerty we found in a skip in Ringland. We plan on making lots of videos this year and playing as many shows as possible. It’s great to be able to play with the same intensity as The Dolls did but from a perspective that’s more from the music that influenced me when I was growing up. It’s also great for me to be doing lots of the writing in this band as I was quite like Derek Smalls in that respect in the Dolls.
The Exit record was the last bit of proper production I did since I decided I was going to worry about my own music rather than someone else’s for a bit. That was a fun record to make and I`m really chuffed for them and myself that it got nominated for the 2012 Welsh Music Prize. I moved them all into my house for the duration of the recording which was rather chaotic and disassociated from reality at times and I am surprised we even finished it at all. The next thing I want to do is to return to production and do something musically that is so uncommercial that I will even hate it myself.
And so the question most 60 ft Dolls fans will want answering, a reunion, any chance?
We talked about it seriously a few time, twice in fact but its not on the cards at the moment , its probably better to leave it as it was although I would be completely up for the physical torture of that mental setlist again
Cider or beer? Not a big beer drinker, I’ll have a Mount Gay and coke please or a glass of red please.
Tea or coffee? Yes. I’ll have a Mount Gay and coke please or a glass of red please.
Super Furries Vs The Stereophonics? Bill Cummings!!??!!*&%$! I am telling your mother about you!
Tjs or Clwb? TJ’SSSSSSSSS! Don’t be silly!!
Britpop or Cool Cymru?Neither, it’s all about Blob Rock, The Lash have invented a new genre of hormonally unstable ear chocolate
Newport Vs Cardiff?
Aw man don’t do that to me. I moved to Cardiff two years ago to escape my mortal fear of uncomfortable meetings with people I have to pretend to like in supermarkets and I love it here. Newport has got a lot of soul, something Cardiff can never replicate because its such a bloody great city to live in. It’s all little tables and chairs outside bars in Cardiff; if they had that in Newport they would be burned for fuel or used as weapons.