Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Duff Interview: Nick Welsh of King Hammond and Skaville UK

Editor's note: For a bit of a primer on Nick Welsh and King Hammond (where you can preview some tracks from the new King and I album), go here. Also, read Duff Guide to Ska reviews of Nick's recent albums here, here, and here.

The Duff Guide to Ska: You’re now releasing Skaville UK and King Hammond albums through your new N.1 Records. What led you to create the label, and do you intend to release records from other ska artists? In this day and age, can one even expect to make any money from recorded music?

Nick Welsh: I just wanted to start my own label in a recession! No, I just wanted to have a bit more say in my own destiny. It's small, small time--and you're right, impossible to make money. But I am one of those people who thinks you don't deserve a place in the marketplace unless you're making new music. Since leaving The Selecter, I have made three Skaville UK albums; two with Rhoda Dakar; a solo acoustic venture; and am now recording this new King Hammond one.

DGTS: In an interview last year, you put aside any suggestion of reviving King Hammond, yet here you are planning a new album to be released this May. What changed?

NW: At the start of the year, I went to a friend's 40th birthday. I could not think of what to get him for a present, so I knew he really liked my King Hammond records. So I recorded him a special track in the King Hammond style. I had so much fun doing it that I thought 'why not?'--as long as they are new tracks, it's cool and these songs are so much better than the ones I made in the 80s.

DGTS: King Hammond was created back in the late 80s, when the UK ska scene was comprised of bands like the Potato 5, Loafers, Deltones, Trojans, etc.—none of which (with the exception of Laurel Aitken) were playing skinhead reggae. What inspired you to take King Hammond in this musical direction?

NW: At that time, most bands were trying to play a 2 Tone kind of thing, or like the Potato 5, a Skatalites kind of thing. My love has always been the '69-'73 skinhead reggae thing, so I went in that direction--although when I listen to Revolution '70 now, it does not sound much like it at all, but the spirit is there.

DGTS: Growing up, one of your musical heroes was the great Marc Boland; you were in punk bands before joining Bad Manners in 1986 (I never knew until recently that you were schoolmates with Doug Trendle and the rest of the band back in the day…are you still in touch with Buster?). During your teen years, were you into Jamaican music, or did that come later? What record or experience converted you to ska?

NW: As a kid growing up I had two musical loves: T. Rex and skinhead reggae. I started playing gigs when I was 14. I was in a punk band called The Dead--we used to play clubs like The Roxy with bands like Eater and Cock Sparrer. The music that turned me on to skinhead reggae was "Double Barrel" by Dave & Ansell Collins. In fact, when I wrote the song "Skaville UK," I was trying to do a Dave Barker! I went to school with Buster, and no he has not spoken to me since 1991, when I joined The Selecter.

DGTS: I recently read Patti Smith’s autobiography “Just Kids” about being in NYC in the late 60s and early 70s and it blew my mind how many now famous people she ran into/became friends with/worked with—most of it due simply to having an incredible amount of luck (or it was destiny, if you believe in it), essentially being in the right place in the right time (and, of course, having an extraordinary amount of innate talent to run with it all!). Your life strikes me as being similar. Could you ever have imaging that when you were going to school with Buster and Louis et al would have led to you being in Bad Manners and Selecter and to work with people like Prince Buster, Rico Rodriquez, Dave Barker, Laurel Aitken, and Lee Perry?

NW: Good question. I can't believe how lucky I have been. These artists whose records I used to buy have become my friends--Prince Buster, Rico, Laurel. Getting woken up on a Sunday morning by Judge Dread with unprintable gossip. Sharing hotel rooms with Dave Barker, listening to him sing while he is in the shower with a voice so good it shames me! So it's been great.

DGTS: Speaking of “Scratch”, what was it like working with Lee Perry on his 'Jamaican ET' album? (How to put this…clearly he is a brilliant musician and producer, but is he really crazy or eccentric or is his public persona just for show?) What led to you becoming his producer? Did you ever imagine this album would win a Grammy?

NW: First of all, I was not the producer; that was Roger Lomas [sorry about the mistake!-ed.]. I just played bass on the Grammy album. I donated about 12 old King Hammond basslines to the cause! No, I don't think he is that strange at all. I like and got on well with him, and enjoyed playing live with him, too. Another person who I used to buy all his records and now I'm working with him. I got my Super Ape album signed, too!

DGTS: Is there any musician that you’re dying to work with that you haven’t already?

NW: Peter Frampton! To be honest, I have done enough of that. It's time for a bit of me time. But, of course, I'm always open to offers!

DGTS: How did you become involved in writing music for television shows (“Malcolm in the Middle,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Ugly Betty,” “Pimp My Ride,” etc.) and video games (“Smackdown versus Raw 2006,” “Day of Reckoning 2”)? Has being a musical gun for hire been a good way to pay the bills (and is it creatively satisfying)?

NW: It's the only way to pay the bills! I got the offer of doing stuff like that because, to cut a boring story short, I was recomended as the man who can write good melodies and knew his ska. My fave of that stuff is a track called "Hey You," which was used as WWE Brian Kendricks entrance music.

DGTS: You’ve spent a lot of your career as the songwriting powerhouse behind the “reboots” of Bad Manners in the late 80s and The Selecter in the 90s—with other larger-than-life singers in the spotlight, like Buster and Pauline Black. Now with Skaville UK, you’re front and center—which do you prefer?

NW: I like having my own band, writing on my own. Although, I really enjoyed writing with Pauline Black because I felt we got better at it all the time. But now I think I am writing the best songs I have ever done--though I still like it when people call out for "Skaville UK" and "Skinhead Love Affair."

DGTS: You’re a prolific songwriter with a considerable number of ska hits to your name—where does it all come from? Do you wake up in the morning with a new tune in your head? What was the first song that you wrote and when was it? Do you set out to write a ska song or simply a good melody?

NW: I'm a song and dance man: I wake up in the morning with a melody! I get titles first normally, melody next, and lyrics just before I sing them! The first song I ever wrote was in 1974 with a friend of mine; it was called "Tea Party."

DGTS: Your father was music producer in the 60s and 70s—did he ever take you to work with him? Did he pass along any music business advice that you found particularly useful? Did you have a particular moment that changed your life, when you knew that you were going to be a musician come hell or high water?

NW: See, I feel I was lucky there--my dad used to take me to studios, like Abbey Road and Pye in the 60s, where I used to sit and watch the most amazing sessions, and watch him in concert at places like the Palladium in London. That's enough to make a young boy think, "Wow, I want to do that." For the record, my favorite track my dad did was Don Fardon's "I'm Alive." Check it out on YouTube!

DGTS: You’ve been collaborating frequently with the incredible Rhoda Dakar with Skaville UK, your acoustic work, her solo album, and on the “Back to the Garage” album. What draws you to working with her—and what projects do you have lined up with her next?

NW: We just had a shared background--same gigs, records, etc. and I really enjoyed working with her. But like I said before, it's time for me to record and perform alone.

DGTS: What’s the strangest experience you’ve had on the road, the studio, or in dealing with a record label?

NW: Playing a gig with The Selecter in San Diego with The Monkees and The Village People!

DGTS: What are your plans for the next six months for King Hammond and/or Skaville UK (plug away…)?

NW: The next year is totally dedicated to the King Hammond project. He has been away for 20-odd years, so he deserves a bit of attention.

Thanks to Nick for taking the time to answer our questions!


Marco On The Bass said...

Great interview Steve! I'm really looking forward to the release of the King Hammond LP as the songs I've heard have been fantastic.

Steve from Moon said...

Thanks, Marc! Obviously, I'm a big fan! The new KH album is going to be a smash, no doubt!

johnnyreggae said...


Steve from Moon said...

Thanks, JR!