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Vice Squad Prepare for the Battle of Britain: Interview with Beki and Wayne

When, where and why did your dream as a musician begin?

Beki: I was in love with music as soon as I was aware of it. I was fascinated by the sound of electric guitars as a little kid and still am. I used to make up songs when I was about 8 years old and when I was 9 I played my first ‘gig’ at my junior school Christmas party in a band named ‘The Flashers’. I was also a natural born rebel and questioned the treatment of non-human animals and authority in general from a very early age.

Wayne: In my bedroom, trying to play along with my records age 12, wishing one day I’d be good enough to be in a band. How silly of me!!

When and why did you choose to sing? Did this ever change, if so why? Also, do you play multiple instruments and if so which is your favourite to play and why?

Beki: The voice is the primal instrument, everyone can sing to some extent and I was in the choir at a very music orientated junior school, so I sang every day. By about age 7 or 8 I’d started to notice the difference between powerful singers like Tina Turner, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, Noddy Holder etc and frailer ‘Pop’ voices and I wanted to sound like the powerful singers. I sort of knew I was born to sing. I got into Punk around age 12 and kept trying to sing in bands at secondary school but had the mic taken from me whenever there was an impromptu rehearsal, so it was quite a coup to end up in a band of older teenagers, call it Vice Squad and actually play a real gig after 3 rehearsals in the bass player’s parent’s garage. When I started to sing professionally (I use the term loosely because you couldn’t really describe Vice Squad as professional in the early days) in my teens I soon realised that there was a huge downside to being a singer, namely that you can’t party all night every night and keep your voice, it’s the equivalent of repeatedly slamming a car door on your hands if you play guitar.

It took me several years to accept this fact and my teenage diaries are full of descriptions of alcohol and drug-fuelled escapades followed by genuine incredulity that my voice was croaky and that I felt shite. To be fair I was being spat on, going without food a lot of the time because I was veggie (vegan now) and people thought it was funny to see me go hungry and I was sleeping in the PA truck some of the time so no wonder I drank and took drugs. I suppose like many things in life you have to learn first-hand through your own experiences as no-one wants to be told that they need to curtail their fun. When I sang in a Blues covers band about ten years later I didn’t have any vocal problems in spite of getting plastered on a regular basis, so either that kind of singing comes naturally to me or my voice had matured into sterner stuff.

I suspect I chose to sing because it came easily and naturally to me and being very young I didn’t understand that if you apply yourself to something you find difficult (like learning to play an instrument) you can learn to do it. I thought you either had a natural gift for doing something or it was beyond you, which isn’t the case at all.

Wayne: I didn’t choose to sing, it was necessity. In covers bands I was in, I needed to do backing vocals so was given a mic and told to get on with it. Eventually, when we were choosing songs, one singer refused to do a couple of songs I wanted to do and said, “If you wanna play that shite, I ain’t singin’ it, you fuckin’ sing it”, so I did. And once I’d learned to control what was basically shouting, I got better than the ‘singer’ quite quickly. When I started my own bands, I became the ‘singer’ by default as no one else would/could do it and there was no chance of finding someone who COULD do it in our town. Still applies today.

I only play bass (guitar and double bass). I love drums, always wanted drums as a kid, [but I] can’t do it. Can play a bit of guitar enough to get ideas across.

Any major influences?  A specific song?

Beki: I would howl along to: Bowie; Iggy; the Banshees; The Clash; The Dead Boys; Penetration; UK Sub; X-Ray Spex and also early Queen (yes really), so they must have had some influence but not much as we were very inept when we started so couldn’t make ourselves sound like any of the ‘real’ bands. The females in Punk definitely inspired me to have a go myself.

Wayne: Cliff Burton, Steve Harris, Billy Gould, Dan Lilker, Flea, Geddy Lee and Jason Newsted. No specific songs as such. Stuff from the bands I learned to play along with I suppose.

Successes and failures along the way?

Beki: Just keeping going is a success in this business, the only real failure is giving up and becoming ‘normal’.

Wayne: Depends on how you term success and failure. Being mediocre at bass guitar has afforded me a lot of opportunities I would never have had, had I not picked it up. I guess writing and making records and getting them out there. The travelling and trips away we have done. Positive good stuff. Making some of my life’s best and longest lasting friends. Getting to meet a lot of people in bands I love. Getting to play in the U.S.A, South America, all over Europe, and so on. Many, many festivals. Many, many parties!! Getting something, I played on a vinyl record. All sorts of little goals. There are many more things I’d love to have done but they never happened so whatever. I guess I try to see achievements as successes.

You could also say everything I have attempted has failed musically as I’m not a fucking millionaire or whatever, but I don’t look at it or indeed life that way. Quitting is the only failure.

Any funny stories – lessons learned?

Beki: Years ago, I was rehearsing with my second band, Ligotage, at Nomis Studios in West London and Motorhead were rehearsing across the hall from us. We ended up in the pub together and Lemmy was sat on a bar stool next to me and attempted to seduce me with one of the worst chat-up lines I have ever heard, namely “I was the first one in my band to have anal warts”. Unsurprisingly it didn’t work, in spite of him insisting that my eventual conquest was ‘inevitable’ (which, just for the record, it wasn’t) and him raiding the ladies loo trying to find me after I decided to leg it.

A year or so later I went drinking with him on his house boat on Chelsea Embankment. He had several pairs of white Chelsea boots in the front room/cabin and I asked if they were his and he said “No, they used to belong to a horse I once knew”. When I could drink no more and wanted to go home he phoned the cab office for me, saying “Hello, this is Scarlett O’Hara” (the name of the boat) which was pretty funny as I couldn’t imagine a less likely Southern Belle than Lemmy. When the cab came Lemmy came out onto the gang plank and shouted “Oi!! Fishnet face!” and flashed at me. I spent the journey home cringing in embarrassment and trying to explain to the cabbie that I hadn’t slept with him and we were just mates.  I obviously haven’t learned any lessons as I’m still in a band.

Wayne: Lots of funny stuff just related to disastrous occasions and injuries along the way. You know those times when they occur are a nightmare but when you look back, are hilarious? Pranks, scares, all sorts. Too many of those types of stories.

Recommendations for those wanting to play your instrument or sing and get into the business.

Beki: Sadly, I have to say don’t give up your day job…a few years ago I would have said put everything into your music, but the music biz has got a lot worse and you’ll end up impoverished and desperate if you don’t have a safety net of some sort. If you want to do it for the love of music then go for it, but you have to remember that as with everything else in life the music business isn’t fair, i.e. no matter how talented and dedicated you are you will probably struggle to have any kind of career.  Steer clear of management companies that promise you the world in return for paying them large amounts of money up front and always try to retain ownership of the copyrights of your songs.

Be aware that it’s usually economics not ‘musical differences’ that splits up bands.

Wayne: If you want to do it, you will do it. You will find a way. Do it for love/the art, not for contrived success or celebrity wannabe bullshit.

Your future plans and any new material in the pipeline?

Beki: We’re currently writing songs for a new album tentatively entitled ‘Battle of Britain’. The writing has been going really well and we’re very excited about it.  We write and record every song in our home studio and release it on our own ‘Last Rockers’ label and we are self-managed. We have no record company to help us but that means no one tells us how we should sound or what we should sing about. Our material is pure punk, completely DIY from start to finish.

Which specific instrument did you start with and what is a good starter instrument (i.e if you play bass, which is a good starter bass?)?

Beki: A young child should start on the descant recorder and once s/he is about 10 starts on guitar. I’d recommend a Gibson SG copy; the SG has double cut aways so it’s easy to access the top frets plus it’s a lot lighter than a Les Paul. Second-hand guitars are cheaper than new (unless you’re buying vintage as opposed to used) and you can get something pretty good fairly cheaply. Even if you have an absolute plank you can learn to play, enthusiasm is the most important thing. There are lots of wannabe Rock Stars out there with thousands of pounds worth of gear that their parents bought them but it’s meaningless if they don’t have talent and in particular the ability to write songs.  In many ways it’s better to be poor because you have to try harder, never believe that expensive gear is the key to success.

 I properly started (i.e. forced myself to continue until I could play) on a Gibson Les Paul Custom, which is a pretty high-end guitar. When I was a kid I desperately wanted an electric guitar (my Dad played guitar) but my parents couldn’t afford one. They brought me a jumbo acoustic from a second-hand shop, but I found it difficult to play, so didn’t pursue it. Years later our guitarist Paul got me an Aria Pro electric from a shop he worked at in Denmark Street. I started to learn on that, but again as it didn’t come easy I didn’t really push myself. A few years later I had an epiphany, like a voice telling me “You shall play a Gibson Les Paul”. Just in case anyone reading this thinks that’s flash and I was well off I’d better make it clear that was not the case. I was too skint to put the heating on, didn’t own a TV set (still don’t) or washing machine and lived pretty much hand to mouth from the money I scraped from playing gigs with The Bombshells (my third band) but I always invested the little I had in stuff for the band, like transit vans, or recording equipment. I bought this beautiful 1988 black Les Paul Custom and named him ‘Granville’ (all my guitars are male and they all have names!). The fact it was a relatively expensive guitar meant I had to practice. This guitar weighs a LOT but luckily, I have the upper body strength to carry it due to years of lugging speaker cabs in and out of venues. I’ve taken it [Granville] on several US tours etc but ‘he’s’ now been retired to studio work.

Wayne: I initially started on an old classical guitar which was left lying around at home. I had this for about 4 years and played it because I wanted too. My first bass was an Aria Pro II XRB series in 1988, which I got as a 16th birthday present from an uncle who worked at Andertons in the 80s.

I’d recommend for any beginner bassist either Ibanez, LTD or Yamaha. Best design and build quality for the money bar none. Also, if you prefer something more classic, Squier don’t make any crap basses. Every one of them will see you through years of playing. Spend what you can afford. I prefer used as you might get a £300 bass for around £160 second hand.

What do you play now? Budget range? 

Beki: Currently I play a Gibson Les Paul studio live, it was a present. Prior to that I played an SG Gothic, It has a Bare Knuckle War Pig pick up and sounds like an absolute beast. You can get good copies of SGs and if you buy second hand you’ll pay even less, SGs are lighter than Les Pauls and easier to play because of the double cut away and higher neck joint.

Wayne: My main bass right now is a Zon Sonus BG4. Budget range? It technically is the bottom of the main Sonus range of Zon’s basses so yes, it was the ‘budget’ option I suppose. But, it’s the signature version of one of my favourite player’s basses from a tone standpoint.

What is your dream instrument/set-up and how much?  

Beki: I’ve always coveted our guitarist Paul’s old Peavey EVH 5150 amp, I’ve borrowed it a few times and it sounds awesome, especially with my LP Custom through it. If the sky’s the limit, then I’d like Jimmy Page’s 1960 Gibson Les Paul Custom Black Beauty and a Mesa Boogie 150 watt Triple rectifier with matching cabs. The trouble with expensive gear is you need to watch it all the time so I’d need my own guitar tech to tend the gear while I’m otherwise engaged at the bar or wherever.

Wayne: Ok, I pretty much have my dream bass…BUT if we are playing silly buggers in endorsement dreamland then I’d like something custom built for me (now I actually know what I want from a bass) by someone like Jackson’s Custom Shop, built by Mike Shannon.

[The bass would have] 38mm nut width, brass nut, 24 – 6100 stainless frets, pearl sharkfin and headstock logo inlays, large glow in the dark side dots, graphite or titanium rod reinforcement, musicman style trussrod wheel adjuster (easy to use, no holes in the headstock) bound rosewood board and headstock. Neck finished in a matt laquer. Bodies in a nice lightweight wood, possibly chambered for weight reduction.

Bartolini pickups in the same placement configuration as my Zon, hard wired together with the Bartolini stacked 2 band EQ and single volume so there’s 3 pots in the space of 2. I find 3 band EQs a bit softer sounding, 2 bands tend to be a bit more aggressive.

Gotoh or Schaller Hardware.

Maybe 3 Concert Bass thru necks in different colours and / or airbrushed graphic paintjobs. A Randy Rhoads shape and a bolt on Charvel Star shape but all made with the same neck parameters and pickup types, routing placements and circuit types. Also, a maple boarded, bolt on necked Concert Bass with steel screw inserts for easy neck removal for flying and no illegal rosewood issues through customs!

How much for all these? Well, at £5000-ish each and maybe 5 or 6 basses…

We are not going to go down the road of vintage wants, and/or famous basses wants….

Amps? Mesa Boogie Big Block 750’s with a couple of Mesa 8×10’s. You can play any stage, anywhere in the word with these.

Catch Vice Squad on the 6th May at Coventry’s The Arches venue. For more dates or to keep up-to-date visit their Facebook.

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