The Gentle Scars are on fire with new album release Songs For The Loveless. We decided to have a natter and see what’s up.
There was a bit of a false start, but we got there in the end. You don’t need the details.
We’re very keen on The Gentle Scars recent release – Songs For The Loveless – it’s a keeper.
Part punk, part Springsteen, firmly in America as opposed to the band’s native Liverpool. It’s just a proper rock out. To be played loud.
But, it does have its serious moments, too. The Pusher, being one of them (about a rumoured serial killer prowling Manchester’s canal network). And the last track, Shadow of a Kiss is a glorious riot of prog rock.
We felt we should have a chat with the band. We figured 15 minutes would do the job – we were still gassing more than 40 minutes later. It was fun. This is a band that does fun. And, talking.
So, we had a talk with Martin Dempsey and Stephen Lamb over the phone. Unusually, I didn’t even get the first question out before we set off.
Martin: We’re ready to go – ask us anything you want. There’s a DJ in California we spoke to on Skype the other day. He loves the album. He’s playing it to death over there – he’s playing Lost Queens of Hollywood in Hollywood. Which is fucking amazing.
Martin: Have you got a copy of the album?
P3dro: Yeah, but digital.
Martin: Oh, you should get a copy of the CD – the artwork’s great. Done by Steve Hardstaff, who’s been a mate for 40 years or so. He was my lecturer at college, so we’ve been friends all the time I’ve been in Liverpool, really.
P3dro: Where are you and what are you doing?
Martin: We’re in my back garden.
P3dro: How’s that working out?
Martin: Well, basically, I’m from North Lancashire, but I’ve lived in Liverpool since 1975. Steve’s originally from Runcorn. One of our guitarists is from Widnes and the other one is local to Liverpool. So, that’s the line up at the moment. We’ve had several drummers and several other guitarists over the years.
We get bored! What happens is, we get on a vibe and then decide we want to change that vibe and we need a different kind of player. It pisses people off sometimes, but it’s the way we do it. That’s the way it goes.
P3dro: I was going to ask you about that. The first time I came across you was at the Brix and the Extricated gig [in Liverpool at the Arts Club].
Martin: We had Ivan on guitar then, and on theremin. He’s very inventive and good at making weird noises. He was into noisy psychedelic.
P3dro: Tell us a little bit about the band.
Martin: I’ve been involved for about the last 5 or 6 years. The band Steve and John had had been going for about 10 years before that. They started off with a band in Runcorn called Nation of Addicts. I was playing their CD a couple of weeks back and there’s some really nice stuff on it. Steve had forgotten about most of it.
Stephen: Ha! Yeah. In our heads, we were kind of like the New York Dolls.
Martin: So, I said to Stephen – You’re the wrong side of cool. And about 12 months later he said the bass player and drummer had gone and he asked me to join. So, I said, yeah, we’ll give it a go. We started writing new stuff between us and that basically changed the direction of the band altogether.
I think the first gig I did with the band was at The Lomax and we did a version of I Wanna Be Your Dog – We did it super-Stooges style. It was a great version, I put my bass down and it was just feeding back.
We re-vamped the whole thing. It’s kind of all about attitude, really. Some of the songs we started off with were quite simplistic. [But now], we’ll come up with a theme or an idea for a title. One of the songs on the album is called The Pusher, about the serial killer in Manchester. When we played it in Manchester it went down like a bomb. But we’ve also got stuff like My Heroine. The songs are all quite thematic, based on our interests. We don’t write poppy love songs. We feel we have something to say and something to contribute.
I’m pleased with the album because although it was cobbled together very cheaply, I think it stands up.
P3dro: I think it does, too. It’s interesting what you say about New York Dolls and American influences because I get a hell of a lot of that out of the album. But also, quite a few of the songs are 6 or 7 minutes long.
Martin: Well, we both felt that some of them were a bit too long.
P3dro: Do you reckon? Because I think it gives them room to breathe.
Martin: Well, it does that, but also we’d been playing a lot of them live. But we [decided to leave some of the live endings off the album]. But, that’s why some of them are a bit longer than they should have been. But, like you say, it does let them breathe a bit.
Stephen: As well as that, we had ideas, so we thought it was pointless to limit to 3 minutes, when we could have added this, or changed in that direction. Otherwise, it just becomes a bit samey.
Martin: Also, Steve’s lyrics are excellent, so when we record, you can hear the lyrics and get what the song’s about.
Martin: Funnily enough, going back to what you said, the guy in America that’s playing us has got [the album] down as quite classic rock, which shocked us. His playlist is a lot of obscure garage rock, but also The Kinks, The Pretty Things – that kind of stuff. So we’re a cross between that, British R&B and classic rock. We were very flattered, to be honest.
Stephen: We have a lot of influences as well. We’re not all into the same kind of stuff, so, everyone is sticking their own influences onto the songs. So maybe that’s why they’re very diverse and change a lot. It works, really. As long as it’s dark and sleazy.
P3dro: Do you think you’re a punk band?
Martin: We’re not a punk band. We’re punk-ish in attitude. The album was put together in a very punk way. It was done for basically nothing, other than an old collection [of badges and flyers from days when Martin was in a band called Albert Dock]. We’d done 4 tracks that we’d recorded a few months back and then we put the rest of the tracks together at a friend’s digital studio, which is why some of the drum tracks aren’t as hot as they could be. So, we basically did it for a couple of hundred quid.
Stephen: The thing about punk, as well is that you don’t want to get labelled, but you have to tell people your leanings. If there’s any consensus in the band about music we like, then you’re talking about Television, late 70s New York. So is that punk, or is it New Wave. We’re definitely a kind of later CBGBs kind of stuff, Patti Smith. It’s not classic punk – it’s not the Anti Nowhere League or Sham 69.
Stephen: If someone asks me what kind of genre we are, I tend not to think of music, but rather people like John Waters and Divine – Pink Flamingos and that kind of stuff. Twin Peaks, a type of visual, story telling thing.
Martin: I think Stephen should explain the background to Lost Queens of Hollywood.
Stephen: I was raised on rock stars being rock stars, eg, Bowie. If you were into any kind of scene in those days, whether you were a punk, or gay, or anything like that, you had to go to underground clubs – you were part of a little gang that was vilified by “normal” society. But you had an identity and an image. It was precious and special. Obviously, it was a sign of the times, but I just can’t stand at the moment the fact that everything is just open to everyone. We all have access to everything – you don’t have to go rooting in record shops.
There are people wearing MC5 and Ramones t-shirts who have never heard those bands. And, it’s wrong. LostQueens of Hollywood is about taking everything back to the underground. That’s where I’d prefer to be.
Martin: I think Mondo Trasho kind of sums us up. That gives you the John Waters link. I just don’t like normal. I think if you’re in a band, you should be avoiding the mainstream.
P3dro: The last question I always as is whether you think there’s any band or album you think we should be listening to right now?
Martin: One of my favourite albums is Marquee Moon by Television, but the album that I’d go for is a live bootleg [by Television] called The Blow Up – it’s absolutely astonishing, it just builds and builds.
Stephen: There’s also The Shaggs. Three teenage girls in the late 60s who were brought up by their parents, but who wouldn’t let them listen to any music. They can’t actually play, but they do, and it’s just the most bizarre, off the wall stuff you’ve ever heard. That’s proper punk – it’s funny.
I also like Turbo Negro and The Decemberists.
Martin: Did you hear about the last gig we did, by the way?
P3dro: No – tell us
Martin: We were playing at the Stockroom in the Kazimier Garden. There was a lighting rig and about a quarter of the way through the set, Steve decides to swing on the rig. He’d done it once or twice before, and then, on the third occasion when he did it , he fell off and then fell off the front of the stage. And smashed both wrists, but still carried on playing until we got to the end of the set.
At which point he couldn’t even handle the mic, so I had to do that for him. Then two girls ran on stage and pulled the rings off his fingers ‘cos his hands were swelling that bad, and then straight to A&E. He had all his arms and hands pinned until about a couple of months back. He’s only just been able to use a laptop now.
Stephen: It was just about every bone in my wrists. I fell about 15 feet. I’d put my arms out to save myself. That’s quite punk innit? One of the most exciting things that’s happened to us!
You know the worst bit about the whole thing? I was stuck in A&E, looking like Marilyn Manson for 10 hours on a Saturday night with all the scallies and smackheads, and there was me looking like some kind of deranged bloke in full make up and all my stage gear on.
But I’m OK now. We’re writing new songs and hoping to get out gigging soon. But we’re in limbo – we can’t even really plan ahead.
And, with that, Martin and Stephen carried on chatting for another 10 minutes or so, just musing about life in general, music and the possibility of a new Gentle Scars release.
As well as stories involving Mark E Smith, Brix Smith and Steve Diggle that are probably best left sat on the voice memo app on my phone.
As well as Stephen stroking a bee on the garden table. Yeah – it was that kind of chat.