ANDY DIAGRAM INTERVIEW - DECEMBER 2000

exclusive interview by Dave Brown (One Of The Three Webmaster)

1ofthe3 : Andy, thank you for agreeing to speak to us. Most of the people reading this will only know you from your time with James.  However, before you joined in 1989, you'd be in several other groups. Can you tell us a little bit about them?

Andy : The main bands I was part of before James were

DIAGRAM BROTHERS from 1980 to 1982. Me and my brothers formed this guitar band, in Manchester. I played bass guitar. We called the music "Discordo". The music was made to a strict formula or set of rules. All the guitar chords were based on discordant notes, all the beats were very simple rock or disco, and all the words were very very straightforward and down to earth. Let me give you an example :

"Bricks, lay them down in a straight line.

Bricks, build them into a wall.

Bricks, very useful objects,

They're not expensive at all."

The Diagram Brothers were big favourites on the John Peel show, we recorded three sessions for him that he played many times. The Diagram brothers recorded 2 singles, an album and an EP for New Hormones label ( the Buzzcocks label). They are not available any more, although me and my brothers are looking into getting them re-released on CD.

DISLOCATION DANCE from 1980 to1986. I played trumpet and wrote songs with Dislocation Dance. we played a sort of jazzy pop, influenced by film themes. I played jazz and did session work for many bands,  but with Dislocation Dance I developed my style of playing, which used the trumpet as a lone instrument (not part of a brass section). I started using echoes and effects with the trumpet. We recorded 2 albums and many singles and EPs for New Hormones and Rough Trade (same label as the Smiths). Dislocation Dance's records and Peel sessions have recently been re-released on the Vinyl Japan label (based in London and Tokyo).

PALE FOUNTAINS from 1982 to1984. The Pale Fountains were a Liverpool band that supported Dislocation Dance at a gig in London. We discovered that we liked the same sort of music (Burt Bacharach, and West Coast 60s band, Love ). They asked me to jam with them on stage and then to help record their first single.  We became friends and I used to travel from Manchester to Liverpool to hang out with them. They were very much part of the early 80s Liverpool scene with people like Echo and the Bunnymen. At the end of 1982 they signed a big record deal with Virgin Records. We recorded 2 albums, lots of singles and made pop videos.

They reached the lower reaches of the charts and gave me experience of the music business, how it works, what record companies expect. this was invaluable when later James hit the charts.

I also did lots of session work and was involved in the Manchester music scene, playing with bands like A Certain Ratio, Durrutti Column, and touring with Nico (from Velvet Underground) in the last years before she died.

1ofthe3 : Had you heard very much of James when you joined and what was your opinion of them?

Andy : I had heard a lot about James, and had the first factory single. I thought they had a unique sound and attitude and liked the fluffy jumpers and vegetarianism. I was a vegetarian, but dumped the fluffy jumpers after a bad photo shoot with the Pale Fountains. James managed to make fluffy jumpers look cool.

I met Jim and a friend of his in 1981 or 82 (can't remember the exact date). Dislocation Dance were on tour with Orange Juice and we played in Sheffield. We gave Jim and his friend a lift back in our van to Manchester. They were very shy but told us about a band they had formed, and asked us what we thought of the name "James". I remember it very clearly because i thought James was such a strange name for a band.

1ofthe3 : So how did you come to join James and how was your role described to you when you joined?

Andy : In the summer of 1989 I was living with a guy who played Sax had a business printing T shirts. He was doing well. T shirts were all the rage and he was doing all the James T shirts and Inspiral Carpets. James asked him to play his Sax, but he was too busy and suggested they contact me and the Sax player from the Jazz Defectors.

We were invited to the recording studio, where the band were set up and jammed a song which later became Gold Mother. Those were the first notes I played with James. They were developing the band at the time and Mark, Saul and Dave had just joined. They were looking for people that they felt good with, and although trumpet and violin was an unusual instrumentation, they wanted us to be in the band.

I liked their attitude and the fact that we jammed and improvised all the time. It wasn't just someone sat down writing songs and handing out parts.

1ofthe3 : What was the highlight of your time with James - both personally and musically?

Andy : The first tour we did of the UK as a seven piece band at the end of 1989, finishing with a gig at Manchester Apollo, was my favourite time. The gigs were wild. Me and Saul used to throw each other around the stage. The audience used to rush the stage at the end and we'd end up with 50 or 60 people jumping around on stage to "Come Home'

1ofthe3 : And the lowest point?

Andy : After the success of Sit Down, we tried to record the follow up to Gold Mother. We wasted many days in expensive studios, until we met Youth who re-established our self belief and helped us record Seven. 

1ofthe3 : Very little has been said about the reasons for your departure - what was the main reason you left?

Andy : Before joining James, I was establishing myself as a jazz musician on the experimental free jazz circuit. This was where my interest lied and I had a band called The Honkies, which played around Europe at free music festivals and euro-squats. I kept playing with The Honkies throughout my time with James, and went from gigs in front of thousands one night, to little gigs of 50 or so people. 

As James got more popular I felt the excitement went from it and the management wanted James to break America, which would have meant lots of endless touring around the States. I would have had to give everything up apart from James, and I didnt feel I could do it. I told James before Seven was released that I would promote Seven and then leave when they did the next album. For the whole of the year promoting Seven, they kept asking me not to leave, and didnt believe I would do it.

1ofthe3 : Do you have any regrets looking back about leaving when you did?

Andy : I would have loved to have worked with Brian Eno in the studio, but that would have been unfair to the band as i wasnt prepared to go on tour anymore with them to promote it.

1ofthe3 : So after you left James, what bands have you been involved in?

Andy : I started my own duo Spaceheads. We actualy supported James just after I left on their "Acoustic tour" at the end of 1992. In 1994 I started playing with David Thomas (the singer from Pere Ubu) in a band called The Pale Boys. 

1ofthe3 : How would you describe the music to the uninitiated?

Andy : Spaceheads are best described as a loopy electronic jazz band. It is always hard to describe your own music as you always try and make it new and fresh. Basically i play trumpet through echo machines creating layers of sounds and loops and my friend Richard (from Dislocation Dance) plays drums. It is sometimes very dancey and melodic, sometimes very strange and electronic.

With David Thomas we have David on accordion, singing and wailing and telling stories, accompanied by me on trumpet and electronics, and a guitarist who triggers samples and other sounds with his guitar. It is mostly improvised and we call it instant song creation.

1ofthe3 : What are you doing at the present time - release and tour wise?

Andy : You can check our website at www.spaceheads.demon.co.uk. Basically we are recording a new Spaceheads album at the moment.

A new David Thomas and two pale boys album is out in January called "Surfs Up' and i am playing in Russia, USA Europe and around the UK over the next few months to promote the David Thomas album - check the david thomas / pere ubu website www.projex.demon.co.uk for details

1ofthe3 : Which of your records across your entire career are you most proud of?

Andy : All of the Spaceheads records were played written and produced by me with help from Richard the drummer. We have done all the artwork ourselves. This total control is hard work and  we have spent many years getting to that point.

The first Spaceheads CD released in 1995, was the turning point and established it all. I have to say that would be the one i was most proud of. It is just called Spaceheads and has a great mixture of melody and experiment

1ofthe3 : And a final question, when the musical encyclopedias are written, how would you like your entry to read?

Andy : I like to think I have a unique and recognisable trumpet sound. I wouldn't know how to describe it, and I dont think I am the best person to do it. But I would like to think that I can carry on playing for the rest of my life, and keep coming up with ever more new and exciting music.

1ofthe3 : Thank you again, Andy, for taking time out to talk to us. Good luck with both the Spaceheads and the David Thomas albums.