Ten Questions with The Automatics David Philp
Rob – Thanks David for taking the time to answer some questions for us here at Masters Radio. You released a new album last summer “A Grand Swan Dive Into the Void.” Can you tell us a little bit about it?
David – I was diagnosed with two different kinds of cancer in two days. It was March of this year and the whole city was going into pandemic lockdown. As I was lying in the hospital bed I realized how much of a dodgy game this life business really is. So I resolved that if I ever got out I would put my musical affairs in order. Who else would know the right mixes, the ISRC code sequence and the right mastering? I was surprised to discover there were over a hundred songs that I’d never got around to releasing so there were eventually eight albums that I released in August.!
Rob – I believe this is one of the best albums of the year and I have heard a lot of music I love. It is a departure, IMO, from your early days. Did you record this album with a different style in mind?
David – Well, thank you for that! “A Grand Swandive into the Void” is maybe the most approachable of the eight albums along with “Electric Fairytales” which was done with Brian Ray from Macca’s band. The title track marks the first time I have worked with Steve Lillywhite since we shared a flat in West Kensington in the ’76-80 era.
In terms of a different sound I just didn’t want to do what everybody expected of me. A lot of it was Jim Wirt who produced most of it, plays bass and does the backing vocals. I’d put the song down in my studio quite soon after writing it, then twist it- either with one of the guitarists like Brian Coffman or Ian McCallum or have Tom Morse orchestrate it. And then I’d hand it back to Jim Wirt to pull it all together.
Rob– Touring is non-existent right now. How are you spending your time during the pandemic?
David – Well, Japan and UK got cancelled so after I finished the eight albums, I started writing the new one which I guess will be out in the Spring. I have a problem though in that when I go out to play fans want all the early stuff. Mostly I’m happy to oblige and enjoy the attention but I think what I do now is better. I had formulated plans to play “Britannia” from start to finish supported by the Nils in the Canadian festivals last summer but that got cancelled too. I’d still like to tour just doing “Britannia” because it has a cult following and I like it. Rolling Stone Records called it one of the best ten records ever made, which of course it isn’t but it’s certainly one I’m proud of.
Rob – Nothing says rebellion like Punk Rock. Do you see a rebellion happening now in music regarding artists of your generation basically being ignored by the big streaming services?
David – I think there’s a new radio formula emerging: new songs by older artists. I think they worked out that the kids don’t listen to terrestrial radio so they have to work the audience they have rather than the audience they wished they had. I find it really interesting and a lot of the bands are making great records. I like Phil Hendriks solo record and the Vapors and Nic Kershaw. Go to the audience you’ve got and the kids will catch up.
Rob – I’ve seen your “White Album”, which is the “White EP” not to be confused with those other guys’ “White Album”. How did making this come about?
David – Well that’s all kudos to Steve Green. We became pals after I did his “Blank Generation Radio” show and he loved the eight albums and wanted other people to hear them. So the white vinyl sampler was his idea- he did the artwork and chose the tracks. He has really gotten other people interested in what I’m doing and I’m very happy he did. That’s how “Peace on Earth” got chosen as a Christmas release too.
Rob – Considering how much has changed in music over the past 40 years, if Punk Music were just starting today, how do you think it would be received?
David – Well, it was a reaction to everything else that was going on at the time so they are not circumstances you could recreate. But people forget how shocking it was at the time and how everybody hated us- even the ones who are big punk fans now. After a gig you were more likely to get beaten up than be paid.
Rob – During our interviews we have asked some artists what their favorite place was to perform. Where was your least favorite, remembering we both do not want to get sued for mentioning a place that is still open?
David – I loved the Marquee. It was just electric from the first downbeat until the sweat started to fall from the ceiling as rain. The worst….let me see…. there are so many contenders….maybe a pub in Tilbury Docks. Docklands in the ‘70s was pretty much how the Luftwaffer had left it- a brick site with this one pub left standing. My Grandpa had been harbormaster there during the war but I knew when I walked in that something was off. It just hung in the air. The dressing room was the mens restroom under a half inch of urine. We set up and went for a walk to find a phone booth. I rang the Dick James Agency who had booked us (they also booked Penetration and the Only Ones which is why we did so many gigs together). I spoke to the agency receptionist who cheerfully informed me “Oh no- you shouldn’t be playing there! We cancelled all those gigs since the singer got killed last week”!
We played the short set at double speed under the threat of psychopathic violence and were bloody happy to get out of there. I have never been back to Docklands.
Rob – Some people have accused me of being naïve. So, with that in mind, did Queen really open for you?
David – Haha! Well there’s a story! We used to do gorilla gigs with a power generator on a flat bed truck. We went down the Kings Road at the height of the Punk v Teds war and nearly got ourselves killed. On this occassion we glued our posters over the Queen posters so they said “Tonight- Empire Pool Wembley- the Automatics”! and then at the bottom in very small print “Special Guest- Queen”. After the gig we drove into the parking lot in our flatbed truck belting out our set. We actually got a few done before the police arrived and threatened to arrest us. Fortunately the Evening Standard reviewer was there and his review the next day was “Tired old Queen with all their prerecorded backtracks, etc and then a fresh young band in the parking lot was a breath of fresh air…” As a footnote I bumped into a guy many years later who was a Queen roadie who told me Freddy was apoplectic when the review came out.
Rob – You are a punk band. So, I have to ask you, what is the most amount of damage you have ever caused on stage and how much did it cost you?
David – We weren’t really that kind of punk band. I think you deserve some brevity after all my long answers- so there you have it!
Rob – Finally, if you could trade places with any artist, living or dead, in any band, who would it be and what is the band?
David – Hmmm. Tricky that because although I’ve admired many other artists and at times been jealous of their accomplishments, I don’t think I would actually want to change places with them. I loved Bob Marley- his father and mine were friends and we both were on Island but Bob was an angry guy. I can understand why he was that way but I wouldn’t want to be carrying that baggage. I’ve loved Lennon, Dylan, Lou Reid, Paul Weller but I’ve never actually wanted to be them. I like what I do. It’s my world and I no longer feel the pull to inhabit any other. I just dig a little deeper into my own trench. You’ve got to do what it is you do and then you get what you get….and you’ve got to be ok with that.