The Riffs are one of the few British ska bands that kept the flame going during the gap after 2-Tone imploded and before the resurgence of pop-ska in the late 90’s. Founded in 1989, The Riffs have accumulated a worldwide following, though their recorded output has been low. READ’s Adam spoke with Andy and Dave.
Give me the skinny on The Riffs. Where did you come from, what have you done, and what will you be doing?
Andy: In 1993, five guys had just started performing together as a band. Pretty soon they went from playing the night club circuits of Northern England to nationwide tours and together with their boyish good looks, a dedicated management team, a few ‘pop’ tunes and covers of some old Bee Gees’ songs, they soon became the heart-throbs for thousands of pre-pubescent schoolgirls worldwide. Of course everyone now knows the story of Take That and what these guys did after they split. But that was them and this is us! Coincidentally 1993 was when the five current members of The Riffs (Andy, Dave, Duane, Mark and Spencer) also started playing together. We’ve been in blues bands, mod bands, psychobilly bands, indie bands, punk bands, dance bands and shit bands. However, in 2003 we intend to all have sex changes and reform the Spice Girls as a five-piece outfit.
Dave: We’re a London-based band, started with a couple of mates and an ad in the National Music Express, first recording followed by first gig in 1989, then explosion onto the UK Ska scene. Sold 10,000 copies of ‘Who Wants It’ album vinyl/CD releases. Featured on 42 compilation albums to date, released 7″ single ‘Funny little Fella’ in ’92, then CD-EP ‘Spin out’ in 2000. Toured UK and Ireland, France, Spain, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Italy over the last 12 years. Played with our 2-Tone and Jamaican heroes from The Specials to Prince Buster. We’ve played biker rallies, scooter rallies, festivals, weddings, birthdays, memorial gigs, Ska festivals, punk festivals. Have made it onto radio stations, satellite channels, TV soundtracks, video title music.
If you guys have been around for a million years, why do you have so few releases?
Dave: Good question. We are self managed and can barely dress ourselves.
Andy: We could say because we have been waiting 150 years for Mark to build his home studio and so far all he has managed is a little wooden shed in which to store his garden tools. But although this is true, it is also a poor excuse. In the beginning, it all moved pretty fast and within a year the band had played live, been included on a compilation album, toured the UK and recorded an LP. After that, playing live became the number one priority because at the end of the day, it’s the fans that matter and help pay your bar tab. Also, the lads didn’t feel that they had signed the best deal with the first album and were a little cautious after that. A single was done on The Riffs’ own label, a couple of other tracks were licensed (officially) to compilations and then The Riffs found themselves playing in places like Germany, France and Spain which gave another good excuse not to record for a while! After that we’ve been pretty crap at getting it sorted. Every time we’ve found someone who wants to do another LP, either they go into a recession or liquidation, or we balls it up by drinking and smoking them out of house and home during a tour or something. Anyway, our mates at Greased Pig allowed us to release a new CDEP in 1998 and a separate track for their label sampler. We are pretty sorted now and have just finished a new demo that we hope will help persuade some labels and producers to help us create another winner. After all Link/Skank Music are still licensing tracks from The Riffs’ first album to compilations over 12 years after that was recorded, so we must be good! We have a couple of guest producers and guest artists who are keen to come on board with us. We have a bundle of new songs that you will love, and we are born again good boys with a nice clean image. Indeed Westlife and Boyzone have modeled themselves on us because we are so nice, and as for Brittany giving us all that “virgin until I’m married” stuff? Sorry darling but our Dave was the first to try that one!
What are you guys gonna do now that your singer left?
Andy: Rumors of Robbie Williams, Joe Strummer, and The Artist Formally Known As Prince auditioning recently for The Riffs are totally true. Probably. Until anything is confirmed though, Spenny will continue to do most of it ‘cos he sings like an angel! Mind you the rest of us more than make up for that with our individual vocal talents. The thing is The Riffs are much more than one person. For instance, right now we are five persons. Some times there have been nine of us, and once there was just four. We’ve had a few people offer to replace Aidan (the ex-frontman) since he retired (he didn’t actually leave) but no one has hit the mark yet. Someone will come along as we record our next album. Until then we shall plug ourselves into the National Grid to add electricity to our stage performance that way, and of course we have our natural good looks, charisma, and a bottle of Jack Daniels to fall back on in emergencies.
What’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever seen Buster Bloodvessel eat?
Andy: I dunno really. Actually he lives just around the corner from me and although we do visit each other from time to time for a beer or six, he has yet to even ask to borrow a cup of sugar. I’ll ask Spenny, who has been Bad Manners guitarist for a few European tours recently. Some years ago however, our ex singer was ‘eaten’ buy a girl not long after she had ‘eaten’ Buster. Does that count? That’s a pretty disgusting thought.
Okay, let’s lay the cards on a table. Andy, you look like a hippie. What’s up with that?
Andy: I grow me dreads mon for over 10 years now. Back then it wasn’t fashionable, but now everyone has them. So what. Fuck ’em all I say. Spenny has long hair too. Malcolm McLaren says never trust a hippie but if Spen and me loan each other money we always get it back. Malcolm was a bloody liar then wasn’t he? As a band The Riffs are probably one of the most diverse in the world. We all have different backgrounds that have crossed over many times, go off in a different direction, and then come back again thanks to a mutual love of ska (and other things!). Some of us go to festivals (hippie and rock), others to scooter rallies. We go raving and to punk concerts. Go to our website (www.theriffs.co.uk) and you’ll see links to scooter sites, motorcycle sites, punk, oi, rocksteady and ska sites. Anything goes and that’s what makes us so good and why the audience likes us so much. We have a lot to throw into the big melting pot that is ska that everyone in the audience or listening to one of our records can see and hear a little bit of themselves in there. They can relate to it and respect us for it. We play good time music in a unique style and punters look at us and think, “Bloody hell, look at ’em having so much fun. Fuckin hell, I am too!”
Dave: We let him look like that as it disguises the smell.
You proclaim to have the best lips in the business. You did mean that in terms of trumpet playing, right?
Andy: Not at all. There are loads of superior trumpet players. I meant they are the best set of lips that I have in my own business – and there are a few of girls out there that will back me up too (well they said they would anyway!). A girl likes a man with good lips and a tongue that he knows how to use. I may not know much about Buster’s dietary habits, but he taught me all the tricks he knows about tongues!
Dave: … they’re for talking shit!
Ska is long dead in America. Would you say it’s dead in the UK, or just putrid and rotting?
Andy: Pretty close. We are just festering in your leftovers at the moment and unless someone in the British music industry has the guts to take a few bands on board and promote them, it will be back deep underground again for a few more years.
Dave: It died its death years ago. If you’re going to survive playing Ska these days, it better have your own sound to it. People will always love dancing to Madness pissed up at the Christmas office parties and if your music reminds people of how they used to like it, but still keeps them interested today, you can survive.
Which woman (or man) in ska have you had the biggest crush on?
Andy: Like many men, I would consider myself lucky to wake up with Pauline Black nagging me for breakfast in bed. Apart from that I’ve got to think of others I can name without too much embarrassment to either them or me. There are plenty out there though, I mean who can forget Denise from The Loafers, the various Deltones, and even today Lorraine of the Kingpins looks like a game girl! Of course the reason we all do it though are the groupies. If we come Stateside could you audition some in advance for us please?
Dave: Either Pauline Black or Gwen. ‘No doubt’ she’d love a bit of me!
What was the most adrenaline-pumping adventure you’ve ever had on tour?
Dave: Bad stomach – Touching cloth after a ‘squit-fart’ just as we were walking on stage at my first ever gig abroad. Had to keep my cheeks clenched, dance and play the keyboard whilst checking I had no trouser leg ‘fall out’ between songs.
Andy: Bloody hell that’s a tricky one to answer. There’ve been a few gigs where you’re really nervous for various reasons like your parents are in the audience, or there are so many people there. Playing with your heroes like Derrick Morgan, Prince Buster, Rico and the like is also a bit humbling. A big fight can also be nerve-wracking, but as a rule we tend to laugh in the face of catastrophe, tease uncertainty, and tweak the nose of danger.
There’s been loads of funny incidents though so I shall bore you with those until the next interview, by which time I may have an answer for this question! We got busted for drugs at the French border and were desperately trying not to laugh at the authorities. We knew they’d find nothing because the big green cloud that floated out of the bus as they opened the door was the last bit of evidence we had! You had to be there and in the same state as us to really appreciate that one!
Another show we had in Germany turned into a drinking party from start to finish (a familiar pattern that emerged on this tour!). We were all pretty hammered, lack of sleep, self-abuse and stuff, and our ailments included sore throats all around. A local fan introduced us to Jaegermeister, which tastes like a cough-syrup medicine and is about 40% proof. Buy the time we went on stage we could hardly stand up. The night then became even more blurred and even our driver/photo man was out of it. At one point the bass player was taking a leak on stage whilst playing a song, and midway through the set we stopped to dish out tequila slammers from our rider to the audience. As a finale we tried to play Tequila (which we couldn’t, as we hadn’t played it for at least 5 years) and then we invited the entire audience back stage for a party. The promoter was really happy about that one. Not! With hindsight maybe that is one of the reasons he never offered us a record deal!
Why do Europeans like soccer so much? It’s a pretty girlie sport if you ask me.
Dave: Great game, great to watch, great beer excuse, doesn’t stop every two minutes, addictive and even better to play yourself. Anyway, at least our girls don’t wear pads.
Andy: I suggest that you stay quiet about sports. I mean we invented baseball and yet no one knows how good the Americans are at it compared to the rest of the world as you guys have hijacked the sport and hold an annual World Series to which no other country is invited! And whilst the rest of the world plays FOOTball (or soccer as you want to name it!) with our feet, you guys play American FOOTball with your hands! Even that seems to be pretty taxing for you as you swap the entire team over every few minutes. Is that because you can’t train all the guys to run, throw AND catch? If that wasn’t enough the manager is allowed to stop the game frequently (as you do in basketball) to retrain his players, and you divide the game in to quarters rather than halves so they have a rest! I therefore suggest that Americans had best remain quiet about team sports, agreed? Tell ya what though, get us a tour over there and we’ll teach you how to play real football (although not necessarily the full 45 minutes non-stop each way), and we’ll even thrown the added ‘pub’ appeal!
I don’t know what the hell The Riffs are blabbering about, but check out their new and improved web site at: here