|The Blow Monkeys|
I don’t know, you wait years for a new Blow Monkeys album and then two come along at once! That’s actually a bit of journalistic license which would have worked far better had this been the first thing the band had released since they reformed in 2007 when in fact they have actually released several albums since reforming (Devil's Tavern in 2008 and Staring at the Sea in 2011 plus a limited edition live set). But it is true that the latest collection of new material, entitled Feels Like A New Morning, has been released more or less concurrently with a clonking great three disc best of… collection Halfway To Heaven but front-man Dr. Robert is confident this avalanche of Blow Monkeys material is a sensible move…
Dr. Robert: “I think it makes sense as we’ve got people listening to us again, and this also links my solo stuff to the band stuff, and it [also] gives us the chance to go out and promote both things and put songs from all of those things into our live set.”
Born in Scotland Bruce Robert Howard spent much of his formative teenage years down under when his parents dragged him off to Australia, but as he did some busking in Sydney and later joined a band we’re guessing his teen years in Australia were pretty important in forming his musical personality?
Dr. Robert: “Yeah, because I moved out there in ‘77 thinking I was going to a backwater and the first band I saw was the Saints who were fantastic, and then I saw The Boys Next Door which was Nick Cave's early band and realised there was something going on, so when I came back it gave me a different perspective which was important.”
Total Music: So how did the Blow Monkeys come together?
Dr. Robert : “I came back to London specifically to form a group and did what everybody did in those days, I answered an ad in the Melody Maker and I got the job, but the band wasn’t really happening and Neville (Henry, the saxophone player) and I decided we would form our own group and it grew out of that.”
Total Music: Wikipedia reckons the Blow Monkeys are sophisti-pop, what do you reckon?
Dr. Robert: “I think they’re wrong, I don’t even know what that means, and if it means what I think it means I hope were not, you can’t really get into [Wikipedia] and change it, I know I’ve tried. The sophistication thing I don’t really understand I always thought Roxy Music were sophisticated and I don’t think we were like that.”
Total Music: Was singing ‘(Celebrate) The Day After You’ with Curtis Mayfield at all overwhelming?
Dr. Robert: “No, I was young, brash and full of it. In retrospect it was a bigger deal than I gave it credit for but he made me feel at ease and was very humble, and at the time he was playing to two hundred people at Dingwalls and wasn't seen in the way that he is now. But I knew how good he was.”
Total Music: What are your fondest memories of the Red Wedge tour?
Dr. Robert: “Laughing when Billy Bragg used to come on and sing ‘Move On Up’ (The famously falsetto Curtis Mayfield song), someone said [it sounded like] Curtis Mullard. They were nice times because I wasn’t really used to mixing with contemporaries and peers and that was the first time we had a chance to interact with other groups like the Style Council, Lloyd Cole, The Smiths, Billy and The Communards, it was nice.”
Total Music: Why did the band first call it a day back in 1990?
Dr. Robert: “We’d been together about ten years and done a lot of albums, a lot of touring and I was exhausted, and had got into a completely different vibe in terms of my songwriting [it was] much more personal which sprung up through discovering Dylan and through Dylan back into the Greenwich Village scene, Fred Neil and blues and so I wanted to go a different way and things like The Happy Mondays and Stone Roses were beginning to come through and I didn’t want us to just peter out so it was time to stop.”
Total Music: Your musical career took a reasonably dramatic turn when you went solo, what were you hearing that prompted the change?
Dr. Robert: “I wanted to get away from everything that we stood for in terms of production and sound because I figured that I would be doing quite a lot of things solo just me on the acoustic guitar. A lot of people didn’t even think I could play guitar [as] there was a perception of the band, because of the way we were marketed, as a pretty boy singer out front in a pop group and I needed to change that and really tried to improve my song-writing and continue to learn and listen to music again and that was what prompted the change.”
Total Music: So what prompted the reformation of the band in 2007?
Dr. Robert: “Some of the reasons we had stopped had gone, things had changed and I had been through a lot of solo ups and downs and I really fancied being in a group again so the first thing that sprung to mind was to get this group going again and everybody was up for it.
Was the dynamic the same? Yes it was absolutely the same, and it reminded me why we broke up in the first place (laughs), no it was cool, we really are like a family it’s very close although as people we’re very different.”
Total Music: Your lyrics are often very thought provoking, why do you think that songwriters who studiously avoid addressing any sort of political issues in song are often so vocally opposed to those that do?
Dr. Robert: “Because there’s a school of thought that insist you can’t mix pop and politics, which in itself is a political statement [but] you’re not forcing anyone to listen or to buy. I always thought that pop music was a great art-form, and a great way of expressing ideas it doesn’t have to just be about boy meets girls, although that’s a great thing too, but there’s a lot more to say.”
Halfway To Heaven: The Best Of The Blow Monkeys & Dr. Robert (Sony Music) and Feels Like A New Morning (Cherry Red) are both out now and you can find out more info about these and other news at