On the final date of a hugely successful comeback tour for one of punk rocks defining acts, Sham 69, Gi had the great pleasure of meeting two of the three original members before the show began.
As we sat in the dressing room of O2's Kentish Town forum a stream of thoughts run through our minds as to what to expect when meeting Dave Parsons for the first time, considering the somewhat abrasive history of the outfit he plays such a pivotal role in. However, all of the concerns we may have had were soon put to rest when a smiling Mr Parsons first entered, donning a pork pie hat and looking a good deal younger than his birth certificate would suggest.
Despite the London born guitarist having spent the best part of the 40 years playing and touring as well as performing to sold out venues up and down the UK throughout 2016, one would think that a "homecoming" show in the capital would be relatively straight forward for a band like Sham. Little did we know, "London is always a bit of a funny gig, you never quite know what to expect, it may only be one man and his dog kind of affair or the place might be rammed, you never quite know." One date that did stand out in particular to Dave was the Tram Shed in Cardiff, which was in his own words, "a fantastic gig and one of the best of the last ten years," that, along with Swindon's MECA venue.
Perhaps you may be wondering who turns out for a Sham gig, is it just a room full of nostalgia seeking punk rockers looking to recapture their younger days? Well, if you think that, you couldn't be more wrong and if you consider everything Sham 69 stand for, then you shouldn't be surprised that the message they prescribed to in the 70s still connects with today's audiences and is just as relevant in 2017, "In some respects, it's quite a sad thing that a lot of the anger which features in our music is still relevant, you would have thought by now there would be more optimism and things to look forward to, but unfortunately there isn't. Plus if we didn't feel a connection, if we were going out there and felt we weren't getting anything from the audience then we certainly wouldn't still be doing it. We don't play a lot of gigs so every time we play we really look forward to it."
Although when you can list classic tracks such as 'Hersham Boys,' 'Angels with Dirty Faces' and 'If The Kids Are United' as your own, surely anyone would enjoy playing them over and over, event the cheif riff maker himself? "Well because we're not playing them night after night, we only played about 16 dates this year, and because every venue and crowd reaction can be different, I suppose the songs are kept fresh. But we also try different things, different arrangements, take Borstal Breakout for example, sometimes we change it, which means we still get off on it."
The longer we sat with Dave, the more pleasurable the experience become, as we discussed guitars, the band's history, plus his and Sham's extensive back catalogue of punk classics, it was obvious there was much to learn from the punk icon that was say beside us. Before we got really going, Dave grabbed a banana from the band's rider, which featured a random assortment of beers, spirits and fruits. First on our agenda was to discover whether or not if we had it correct that the first instrument the formidable guitarist ever played wasn't a guitar, but, in fact a violin.
Is it true the first instrument you picked up was in-fact the violin? If so what was the catalyst for you putting down the bow and replacing it with a plectrum?
My family were quite a musical lot, my Uncle grew up playing first as kids and then music with Pete Townshend's Dad, Cliff and Alfred Hitchcock's son who played piano accordion, Cliff played Sax and my Uncle played guitar - Cliff went on to form The Squadronaires and my Uncle had to decide on either music or science, he chose science. My Dad played violin and was in several small orchestras throughout the war years, as there were always violins around the house I naturally graduated to it, I got to a reasonable standard on it but by the time I'd reached 12 or 13 I realised it really wasn't that cool, having seen a few films on TV where there would be a guest appearance by a band, I fell in love with the power of the guitar and saw my destiny.
Before co-writing classics such as ‘The Kids Are United’ and ‘Angels With Dirty Faces’ were you in any other bands and did they promote a similar anti-establishment message to Sham 69?
At the same time that Jimmy was playing locally I was in a band that I'd put together with school friends called Bobalouis playing the same small circuit of clubs and working men's clubs, we were playing mainly 60s stuff from The Kinks to the Stones, Beatles and The Who plus the odd stab at some of my first attempts at song-writing. What appealed to me was the anti-establishment two fingers up feel of these bands and it was great to be given a stage where you could metaphorically stand there and stick two fingers up to the straight society. That's why the timing was so great that me and Jimmy met at this time, exactly as punk was emerging, we didn't have to look for a direction, it fell into our laps.
You play a Gibson SG today but was the first guitar you ever bought and have you kept it for any kind of nostalgic purpose?
The first guitar I bought was a Morris wide necked nylon stringed classical guitar, it was a dog to play but helped me toughen up and stretch my hands and gave me a real appreciation of what a good guitar was when I finally got my hands on one. I did two paper rounds one before school and one after in order to save up for a better guitar. When I eventually saved up enough the first guitar I bought myself was a Black Rickenbacker 480 solid bodied guitar, most people would have gone for a Fender or a Gibson but I always had to be different for some reason, anyway the guitar was a grear step forward and worth all the hard work. I'm not a nostalgic sort of person and don't have either of these guitars today. Having said that I still have my 1977 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe which I used for most of the early hits, I still like playing it but not live as it ends up hurting my shoulder.
With regards to set up and gear, what would you say is needed to write a great punk riff?
I don't think equipment was the most important thing with regards to the writing, it was mostly having a way to transfer that anger and frustration through to a fretboard, it was a mental thing - you hear it in your head and soul and the hope it comes out the other end sounding ok. The set up that always seemed the most obvious to me was the Gibson to Marshall set up, played as loud as you could get away with, in those days you didn't have the luxry of gain controls to get the dirt you wanted you just had to turn it all the way up and burn those ole tubes.
Did you ever think that the political content that run so deep in Sham's music in the 70s would still be so relevant today?
No, I guess I had the optimism of youth on my side in those days, when your passionate about something you like to believe your actually making a difference and that things will eventually change for the better, so it's a two sided coin really, sadness that not a lot has actually been learnt but grateful that we still have relevance and meaning when we play to a new younger audience today.
With such a vast back catalogue it must be some chore to curate a set list. What factors did you account for when deciding which songs you were going to play on your recent comeback tour.
Well we've never really gone away to be honest, song wise it has to be a mix of what still turns us on and what our audience has come to hear, mostly the two are usually quite close. We always like to put in a few new songs just to keep us on our toes and bring things up to date.
You've been the inspiration for many new younger bands, are there any that you listen to?
I have to admit I'm a little out of touch although I have seen a lot of younger bands coming through and I think they sound great, obviously having some of that punk aggression and attitude. I've always tried to be available to give advice or even help out with production with younger bands through the years. There's a local band from the Hastings area called 'Kid Kapichi' who are great, someone took me reluctantly to see them and I was pleasantly blown away, I left feeling like a young rock kid and couldn't wait to get home to pick up my guitar. They're starting to play all over the country now so definitely worth a look if they're in your area.
I understand asking 'what's next for...' to a band with such a storied history as Sham's may seem a little unoriginal. But with plans to perform at the UK's biggest punk festival already in place for 2017, that being Darren Russell's Rebellion Festival in Blackpool, what else are you looking forward to next year?
We're in a fortunate place where we don't play back to back tours any more, we choose our gigs carefully and only play around 14 to 15 gigs a year, this way it never feels like a job or that you're just going through the motions to earn a fast buck, this means we all look forward to every gig we play and always come away totally stoked which for a band of our age is a great thing to have, and obviously we have a great loyal audience that come out to see us and make it all worthwhile. Jimmy and I are slowly writing new songs which are sounding great we just won't be put under pressure to come out with new material to someone else's timetable. Yeah we're looking forward to Rebellion again this year and hopefully a few other festivals around Europe.