IN CONVERSATION: Dave Newton (The Mighty Lemon Drops) 2

IN CONVERSATION: Dave Newton (The Mighty Lemon Drops)

Hailing from the Black Country, The Mighty Lemon Drops released five albums of smart, tuneful indie pop in the 80s and early 90s. The first three of these have recently been collected into a box set, Inside Out: 1985-1990, along with a treasure trove of B-sides, sessions, live and rare tracks. God Is In The TV caught up with the band’s Dave Newton to chat about the new set and a lot more besides.

GIITTV: You have a new 5CD box set out on Cherry Red, how did this come about? Did they approach you?

Dave Newton: They did, we’ve done a couple of things with Cherry Red over the years, they put a Lemon Drops compilation out in 2014, (Uptight: The Early Recordings 1985/1986), and we are also on another couple of their (various artists) compilations and box sets, including the new C85 one. So we’ve had a relationship with Cherry Red for several years now. They looked after licensing the albums from Chrysalis and I helped out with the early demos, some radio sessions and all that and helped them put it together. The others helped out too of course and everybody agreed on what we should include. It was great digging through the old stuff, I found some old sessions like a Piccadilly Radio one from 1988. I’d not listened to it myself for years! There’s 97 tracks, I’m not sure the World needs 97 Mighty Lemon Drops songs, ha ha…!

I think it does! A track I was pleased to see was ‘Wait and See’ which was on the B-side of ‘My Biggest Thrill’, that hasn’t appeared before on any compilation?

I’d almost forgotten about that! When Cherry Red acquired the catalogue from a company called Blue Raincoat, who had bought it from Chrysalis, they got access to all of the Chrysalis recordings so it’s comprehensive.

The first couple of albums and first few singles were on the Blue Guitar label, which was a Chrysalis imprint…

Geoff Travis, as well as Rough Trade Records had a label through Warner Bros called Blanco Y Negro (home to The Jesus and Mary Chain and Everything But The Girl), and Geoff was always interested in the band from early on – I don’t know if we were every really considered to be on Rough Trade or Blanco Y Negro, but he was in the process of setting up this label with Chrysalis and he thought it would be ideal for us – he signed us and The Shop Assistants.

Did you have any dealings with Geoff Travis himself?

Yes totally, it was great because though we were on Chrysalis, Geoff was technically our A&R guy, so we had the benefits of being on an independent label but a major label behind the funding and distribution, so it was the best of both Worlds really. In the USA we were on Sire, which had The Smiths and James and many others.

You’ve mentioned the Piccadilly Radio session, do you have any memories of the Radio 1 sessions for John Peel and Janice Long?

They were great, they were always good to do. It was great the way that they were done, because you’d go in and have a day, and you’d pick four songs and you were left to your own devices really, you were never told what songs you could or couldn’t do. The first one we did was for Andy Kershaw, at the end of 1985 – you’d go in and play live, put the music down as a band and overdub the vocals and maybe a couple of extra bits of guitar and they’d normally mix it either the same day or a few hours afterwards. That’s why I think a lot of those sessions capture the bands and artists as they are live. The other thing that is good is that they are done in high quality studios. Our ‘Like An Angel’ (debut) single was done in a tiny studio in a bloke’s front room!

The Janice Long session was actually released previously, (in 1987), when Strange Fruit were releasing sessions on 12″ singles – that one included a cover of Teardrop Explodes‘When I Dream’…

Yes – that was done in London in Golders Green, one of the BBC studios there. It was a Sunday, we knocked it out really quickly! We did the Teardop Explodes cover a little bit tongue in cheek as we’d always get compared with them. We never got compared as much with Wah! Heat – I wish we would have got that one a bit more! As a guitar player, Pete Wylie‘s guitar on those first Wah! Heat records was an early influence on my guitar sound. My other guitar heroes were Wilko Johnson and Andy Gill from Gang Of Four. And it gets overlooked now but I really liked the first E.P. that Screaming Blue Messiahs put out – I love that choppy guitar sound, that was part of the sound I wanted to incorporate into the Lemon Drops.

I saw you around this time with Pop Will Eat Itself who went on to great success. What sort of memories do you have of other bands from that time?

Pop Will Eat Itself were mates of ours before, we knew them – you can tie a lot of this into JBs (legendary Dudley venue) – I’m from Wolverhampton, Tony (Linehan, bassist) and Keith (Rowley, drummer) from the Lemon Drops are even nearer Dudley, from Tipton and Coseley, so I knew them from there. Keith and Tony were in a late 70s powerpop band called The Pow. I used to write a fanzine when I was still at school and I covered them, then when I started going to JBs I ran into them again. That’s where a lot of bands met, also people like The Wonder Stuff and a bit later, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – they also had their roots in JBs.

If an alien landed and you were going to play them your favourite Mighty Lemon Drops album, which one would you choose, that you think best represents the band’s sound? Which one are you happiest with overall?

I obviously know the tracks but never really sit down and listen to what we did! Laughter, for instance, I haven’t really listened to (recently) but there are few tracks on that which surprised me; I think side one of that album worked really well. I had to drive somewhere when I was approving it for Cherry Red for the box set and had a listen, and I think that side one of that album really stands up with ‘At Midnight’ to ‘Into The Heart Of Love’ to ‘Where Do We Go From Heaven’ and track four, which is called ‘The Heartbreak Thing’, that really surprised me actually! I was kind of proud of that because I just can’t remember the last time I sat and listened to it, probably 20 or 30 years or something! Other than that, some of the earlier tracks, like ‘Now She’s Gone’, which was the B-side of the 7″ of ‘Like An Angel’, that one is a great example of that time. We’d been together five months when we recorded that! There’s other early stuff on the box set, early demos from when Martin (Gilks) was the drummer, who went on to be in The Wonder Stuff.

Where did you record in those days?

The first ever stuff was recorded at a place called Lanes End, in Farlow, Worcestershire – we found it in the back of (fabled West Midlands music magazine) Brumbeat! We went there because it was £25 a day! But it was a great studio, the Poppies did their first E.P. there, and I think The Charlatans did one of the tracks off their Indian Rope E.P. there too. There was another studio in Rugeley…

Abbey Sound? It’s still going, still run by Lee Beddow. Excellent place!

Yes, I got back in touch with him via Facebook! I knew Lee because before the Lemon Drops for about a year I worked in a music shop in Stafford, and he was in a band at the time and they all used to come into the shop, so I knew him from those days and we did a couple of songs from the first cassette there at Abbey Sound.

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And there was a Mighty Lemon Drops reunion gig a few years back…

We did one more gig after the band ended in 1992, in Wolverhampton in December 2000. It’s funny when you’re younger, as it seemed like an age (since 1992), but it was eight years, it wasn’t really that long, but at the time it seemed it – that was 22 years ago!

Sadly I missed that gig, any chance of another one?

We get offered stuff all the time, especially the last ten years…there was period when it all went quiet, but there’s a lot of these festivals with bands from our era now. We get offered a lot of things like that these days.

Do you see the others these days?

I see Tony most of all; Tony will come to L.A. with his work, he works in IT now as a freelancer and has worked with MTV and BBC. I see Keith quite a bit, he lives in Birmingham – I try to get back most years but didn’t in 2020 and 2021 (due to the pandemic). I haven’t seen Paul (Marsh, singer) for a long time, last time I saw him was the reunion gig – I’m in touch with him on and off through Facebook etc. The others are still in and around music – Keith did some work with The Charlatans, one of his best mates was Jon Brookes (Charlatans drummer who sadly passed away in 2013). He did some drum roadying for Jon. And with Tony, I did a Christmas thing a few years ago, just in London with a bunch of mates, covers, daft old punk songs! I don’t know if Paul has done anything musically since the band, he lives his life with his family in Wolverhampton.

What record shops did you like when you were growing up in the midlands?

In Wolverhampton it was Sundown, Ruby Red, all of them! My first introduction to buying records was when we used to get the bus to Bilston market and there was a little record stall on there and I used to buy records out of the ex-chart box there! They were 25p instead of 50p or 60p when they were in the charts. The first record I ever bought was ‘Solid Gold Easy Action’ by T-Rex, which was Christmas 1972. Then I would spend my pocket money buying a record every week and later on when I was a bit older, I would get on the bus to Wolverhampton. Time Machine and Goulds too! Then later I’d go to Birmingham and go around all of those. So many shops, all of the chain stores and Woolworths as well sold records – when The Sex Pistols ‘God Save The Queen’ came out, a lot of shops wouldn’t touch it and I bought it from Beatties in Wolverhampton! (historical note: Beatties was a famous Wolverhampton department store, similar to Debenhams and now also sadly closed, and wouldn’t be the first place you would look for a controversial punk single!).

The band had a good following in the U.S.A…what was the biggest Lemon Drops song when you played in America?

Probably ‘Inside Out’ – it’s been used in a couple of different TV shows as well, it was in Gilmore Girls over there, it was used in the very last episode ever, in the main scene when the two main characters finally get together!

Do they have to seek your permission in advance in those kind of situations?

Not really no – the record company would rarely say ‘no’ as it’s some income for them – if we owned the masters we could turn it down. For instance we own the early stuff, the Like An Angel E.P. but unless it was used for something that we were not happy with we would obvioulsy say no, but there’s no reason really why you wouldn’t (agree). It’s something that pops up occasionally, we’ve been on a few TV shows and films, independent stuff usually.

So if Stranger Things come knocking and ask for ‘Out Of Hand’

Absolutely! We wouldn’t say no!

Inside Out: 1985-1990 is out now on Cherry Red records. Read our review here

IN CONVERSATION: Dave Newton (The Mighty Lemon Drops) 2

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.