Italian Magazine Interview with The Danse Society
‘Heaven Is Waiting’ by THE DANSE SOCIETY ~ Questions for Paul Gilmartin
This interview first appeared in Ascension Magazine and had been translated into Italian for their readers. It is with the kind permissions of Ascension Magazine and Paul Gilmartin that Absolution.NYC is allowed to publish the original English interview as it was originally conducted.
1) First of all, I always thought the instruments identifying your own style were the keyboards and the drums… and Steve’s particular voice (of course!). What do you think?
I have to agree, when I first heard the Lips X demos it was Lyndon’s keys that impressed me, prompting the meeting and eventual amalgamation of the two bands. We were known as Y? made up of Steve Bee and me and (Paul) Nash and Lyndon from Lips X.
Yeah, people did comment back then, and still do, that the drums defined the Danse Society sound; the tribal beats were a big part of it. However, I thought drums always played a big part in a lot of post-punk/ goth bands , Killing Joke, Comsat Angels to name but a couple. I learned to play from listening and drumming along to the early Banshees albums. Kenny Morris was an innovator, so was Budgie (both from the Banshees). I tried not to use ride cymbals, so used the floor tom instead and it worked. The only drawback is that now I’m getting older and still trying to play the old songs with mad toms, I think to myself “Why did I play such bloody manic drum parts?”. But yeah, they were just one element of a great band, but I did feed off the keys for inspiration so I get where you are coming from.
Most of the songs were written using key and drum parts at the start and layered from the bottom up. TDS did have a good, clear crisp hard-working rhythm section. All good post-punk goth had that tribal feel, but I integrated disco beats into our songs as well so that it was a drum driven entity. We just had them louder in the mix.
Steve was the original baritone voice and he fitted the music perfectly. It dawned on me more when we reformed that anything else just sounded wrong if I am completely honest with you. I was in denial myself for a while and I will hold my hand up and accept that.
2) “Perfection”, you know, is often “in the balance”… And “Heaven Is Waiting” is a very equilibrated album. NOT so obscure as your early stuffs, NOT so dance as your further releases. ‘Heaven Is Waiting’ even features a perfect balance between slow songs and epic rides. It wasn’t GOTH, and it wasn’t POP! It wasn’t post-punk, and it wasn’t new-wave! What about this balance?
What a great question! You obviously get it, which is wonderful in itself. I will tell you why, because it’s just what I was thinking lately and came to the same conclusion. I found an old Heaven is Waiting CD and decided to put it in the car for a long journey I was doing. I had not played it all the way through for ten years. It was, as you say, amazingly balanced. It has a feel to it that lasts the whole album – how we achieved that I’m not sure. Whether it was fluke or genius or a bit of both I really don’t know, but it has an eerie atmosphere to it that is balanced and flows, tempo-wise. Even the faster tracks seem laid back. I have to say I think it’s stood the test of time – our own little dark side of the moon, a perfect album if you like The Danse Society. Some bits even have that sort of seventies prog rock feel but then again not if you catch my drift. It’s hard to put your finger on it but it is an amazingly balanced album – even the added tracks for the CD fit well. A good album I always think is one you can sit in a room in the dark and listen to from start to finish and become totally absorbed in – with or without certain substances I may add! This is one of those albums. That’s what we set out to do and I think we achieved it.
3) ‘Heaven Is Waiting’ celebrated your passage from an independent label to a major. Were you scared by this?
Were we scared by this? Yes and no. We had worked hard for this and knew we had more to offer after Seduction so we were ready to go.
What we were actually scared/wary of was big label interference and, underneath, a lurking notion we had signed with the wrong label. They seemed to be focused on getting a hit single first – not waiting for the creative process to unfold and deliver a complete album. Simple Minds parted company with Artisa (the label), which unnerved us because we looked around and realised our label-mates were the Thompson Twins, Diana Warwick, Bruce Foxton and The Lotus Eaters. Fashion were also on Arista we liked them. I think the success of Seduction took us by surprise a bit so we became confident we could be better as we got better at playing together, although this was not always the case if you get my meaning – boys will be boys.
I suppose when you get headlines in the press like “Overated doom rockers Danse Society sign for more money than they are worth”, to Arista of all labels, you do think ‘Here we go – typical UK music press…build you up when you’re a bit trendy and indie, then when you are signed to a major you’re ripped to bits.’ I’ve seen it so many times before so we were a bit apprehensive.
In hindsight it was the biggest mistake of our young lives. The deal was done because of our manger’s cut and desire to move up the managerial hierarchy. It was not done in the best interests of the band’s future. We were a bit naïve – we believed that the manager and the label were in it for the long haul, like us, but they weren’t – only out to make a quick buck.
4) Major labels, you know, often taint some artists’ decisions. Sometimes they ask the bands to do something different, sometimes they even “suggest” to change some lyrics… You have been pressured by Arista?
This is funny because when I look back now I think how innocent we were at first. I mean we were young, only twenty-two and had achieved the dream, accomplished the fantasy – small town boys from the north make it big the rock and roll way, the old school way which was how it worked back then.
We packed in our jobs, took a major risk, lived in the back of a transit van and played every shit-hole going. We lived and loved as a band all together – the five of us against the world. What makes it all the more remarkable is that we went down the indie route first and then hit the jackpot with a record deal with a major – that’s how the music business worked then.
So, here we were telling these people what we wanted, what we needed, and they were just patting us on the fucking head half the time. At first we got our own way and did not have much trouble with Arista. Then when the demos for Heaven is Waiting were presented to them you could more or less see the bigwigs’ response on their faces ‘What is this durgy shit?’, ‘Who has signed these fuckers and where is the hit single gonna come from?’. The A&R guys that signed us were great but I think they were sweating. Getting the full Arista machine to work for us was going be difficult bit we were let down by other departments. For the Heaven is Waiting album we did have artistic control, but it was all based on the presumption that the actual Heaven is Waiting single would chart well. Seeing as ‘Somewhere’ had got into the national charts top 100 at 90 on our own label and ‘Wake up’ just outside the top 40 our confidence was high – ‘How could we fail?’ we thought to ourselves. ‘How could we….?’ – on paper it looked a done deal.
5) After the release of the ‘Wake Up’ single (produced by Ian Broudie), the label booked you a month of hotel in the ‘city’ of Leatherhead, in order to record the album at Nigel Gray’s own studios. Lyndon Scarfe described this experience as ‘the most frustrating’ four weeks of your life. What about it? Did you really hate your time in Leatherhead?
Yeah, we went with Nigel Grey because of the Banshees’ production and the deal was done, but after working with Ian Brodie on ‘Wake up’ and ‘Seduction’ I was a convert and wished he was doing the album. His drum sound was amazing, which I will tell you more about later. The thing is it probably was boring and frustrating for Lyndon – I can see why he made that statement but we are all different. I was bored full stop without band duties back home anyway, so I still had that childish thing liking being in hotels with my boys even without things to do – eat, drink make our own amusement. I probably was too fucking giddy and a bit mad any way. Admittedly it was out the way and Bookham Grange, the country club type hotel we were staying in was not the rock and roll haven we lived in in London – it was not the Britannia at all.
I kind of looked at it as a bit of respite from my own madness and excesses. It became monotonous because of Nigel Grey’s way of working….it was like going to college or a job. His fucking hours were 10am till 4pm – a bit like going to work. We were not used to this and being sent back into a village miles from anywhere by tea time did send us stir crazy eventually. I mean, once you have ordered everything on the menu, what else was there to do?
I don’t jog, play chess, watch TV or read much, so yeah I was bored as well. Thinking about it now all I did was party, so I missed being on the road where I had more play mates and loved it when it was tour time. It was not long before I was getting certain illegal substances posted down to make it more interesting, which I can tell you about in the next question.
6) Would you like to tell us some anecdote about your ‘Leatherhead-experience’? And generally some anecdote (positive and/or negative, funny and/or not) about the making of ‘Heaven Is Waiting’?
God, I have loads of stories about making Heaven is Waiting – the space bongos and simmons I put on that track. The 12 inch version was done on mushrooms, which was an experience especially when it was dinner time! The pork chops looked strange and Nigel Grey looked and sounded a bit funny but we got the feel right – it’s a mega mix – Christ knows how I drove us back to the hotel
A personal story which I remember always is this:
My mum and dad were divorced and I could not live with him, so I left home at about the age of 20 and had never seen him since. Anyway, I decided to drive into Woking to rent some films on VHS tapes – these were the real olden days. Just after I had come out of the shop I saw a woman staring at me and she started following. She stopped me and asked if I was Paul Gilmartin from The Danse Society. I was shocked – I was impressed and immediately thought ‘Wow, it’s milf time.’ She asked me if I would meet her at a certain hotel that night and gave me the address. She said that we must talk…..
When I went back and the others were all bored I started playing up the fact that I had been pulled by an older woman fan. I said ‘Bye bye boys…have a good time…try the fish tonight.’ After we met at the bar she told me that she had been to see us at the Lyceum in London and that she was my dad’s girlfriend! He had met her on a cruise and she decided to try and get me to stop being stubborn and be his son again. She had decided to chase me when the stark reality was that he did not want me around – not the other way round. She explained how it was not his fault and could not understand why I was so hostile to him.
I could not fucking believe it! Here I was talking about my father with some milf – it was insane and I was not happy, mainly because my dad is a liar and had made himself out to be some poor misunderstood nice guy shunned by his son when in fact it was the exact opposite. He was a bad man, re-inventing himself on cruises.
Anyway, I left saying I am not going to discuss him all night. I thought ‘Fuck this for a game of soldiers!’. When I got back the others wanted to know how my older woman hot action went. I had to tell them it never happened and you will never believe this when I tell you: Steve found it more funny because he knew my family, the madness with my father etc etc. Steve and my sister were close at one point as well so we both came from dysfunctional families in a way and he could relate to what was going on.
Another mad thing was we were that bored we would eat dinners. Nigel would bring a cook in and she would make us dinner – pork chops usually with a coating we liked, but it just seemed mad. We should have said ‘Look fuck your dinners, let’s make music.’ Having more dinner later was our evening’s entertainment but we are supposed to be making an album!
7) After Leatherhead, Ian Broudie re-recorded, re-mixed, re-worked some tracks in London… Were you happy to work again with him? Do you think he did a better job?
After Leatherhead I knew it was not good enough – we all did really and we decided to head back to London with Ian to see what we could rescue and re-record the worst culprits.
Why we did not use Britannia Row, Pink Floyd’s studio where ‘Wake up’ was recorded, and Ian right from the start was a glaring mistake. We immediately felt at home again and the drum sound came straight away – again the foundation was back and the rest was easy.
I wanted to re-record them all but thanks to the engineering skills of Will Gosling and the imagination of Ian, lost tracks were rescued including ‘The Hurt’, ‘Where are you now’ and ‘Valiant to Vile’. Amazingly they all seemed to blend in and take an almost sinister semi-acid overcoat that wafted through the entire album. Nigel did a great job on ‘Heaven is Waiting’, the single, and put in a shift because Arista made it clear what they wanted, but as for the rest he did not care – it was shite. It was hard to understand how we could manage to sound so shite – I found it fascinating. He did a great job with The Police and the Banshees but we needed more – we had to have the conditions right, the feel and sound right, so we could bounce off it and then bounce off each other. The demos pissed on this and they were all done in a day at The Greenhouse, Pat Collier’s studio (from The Vibrators).
8) I consider your ‘2000 Light Years’ cover-version a real masterpiece! Why did you decide to cover this song?
Yeah, the 12 inch version is fantastic – a great Brodie production. With Ian I would not use hi-hats cymbals – I would use foam taped to the hi-hat because I had so much spill I hit too hard. The problem was I had no technique – it really worked and we used that with all the recording starting with ‘Wake up’. We decided to record this song because we all liked Satanic Majesty’s album and that song in particular. Ian was keen, so was Arista and I think somehow we thought would get respect and kudos from The Stones.
Well, we were so wrong on that one but it sounded good at the time. We thought we would wait until Mick or Keef hears it and if they say they love it we got it made. How wrong we were – they did not give a fuck, why should they? Were we getting desperate? I don’t know, maybe 3rd time lucky.
The problem was Arista were not getting these tracks into the chart return shops. By now the sales were good but we were selling in the wrong shops – the charts were compiled from Gallup stores which were more well-known outlets. We were still selling in the indie shops where the sales for the charts were not taken. The pluggers Arista employed could not get day-time air play which is needed. Back then it was just before things changed and the charts became more trendy, wanting bands like us. The whole story is unfortunate, but it is still a cover that feels more like an original of our own rather than a Jagger/Richards composition.
9) Would you like to tell us some anecdote about your European Spring Tour? It would be great to tell us again the reason you had to cancel your show in Turin 🙂
We called the Heaven is Waiting European tour ‘Fear and Loathing’ in Europe. It was a ball-breaker with long drives, tight schedules and complete madness. Tensions in the band we starting to come through. I think that was when Lyndon decided he did not want this anymore. I had to be held on to the drum kit sometimes to stop me falling off – yes, very Keith Moon but not very professional. Our mad tour manager, Sir Jimmy, encouraged debauchery and insane behaviour. Certain things became more important than the show but I think we pulled it off more often than not.
I remember the Turin show because you had to go up a really tight spiral stair case to the dressing rooms and it was a great venue. It was then that we were told the trucks had been impounded at customs and the schedule was so tight they would not make the show – so band arrived and there was no gear and the show was cancelled. I remember thinking ‘Shame, but thank fuck I can get some much needed rest and sleep’. I don’t think I did actually.
The thing is I think the show was run by a certain well-known Italian organisation because I found a horse’s head in my bed – just kidding, but you know we were going nowhere until Arista wired some money in compensation before we could go on our merry way.
I loved the Italian leg of this tour because the crowds were amazing – the people, the country – I loved it. We were so well looked after and the shows are on YouTube, live in Milan and Florence so you can actually see and feel the love for our music and us to this day. That’s why it was such an honour to go back recently with my version of TDS to play these songs again. One guy who had come to see us back in the day fetched his son and I signed his albums – it’s things like this that make it all worthwhile. That’s why what the female who fronts the other version is doing is so wrong. To deprive me of this little bit of happiness just because people prefer my version to her fucking wailing Heaven is Waiting is pathetic.
10) Was a funny tour? Or was there some tension within the band?
It was a funny tour and would not swap doing it for the world. How else would I get to drink with David Essex? He came to see us with Jazz, our manager, in Sweden. Or the mayor of Lisbon? I suppose watching your tour manger being attacked by the manager of a five star hotel just shows how crazy we had become – he just lost it. Mind you we had run up a grand at the bar and restaurant and had to wire Arista for cash to pay before we got our passports back.
Like I said above, the tensions were showing and it was getting crazy. I was a bit oblivious to this and thought ‘Who would want to leave this?’. We had lived together for two years solid really and become like couples where the strain begins to show. I did not want Lyndon to go. I think Lyndon had had it with the rock star stuff and lifestyle that we had.
On a personal note I have spoken with the doc [Lyndon] a few times on this recently and it’s all cool, so it’s really nice we are on the same bill together in Barnsley soon. The Danse Society and The Black Lamps. Its’ where it all started.
Lyndon and I will be onstage together for the first time since we did our last show in Paris in ‘84 which was the last gig on the Heaven is Waiting European tour. He’s joining us for an extended version of ‘Come Inside’. It’s our last gig as The Danse Society before we become just ‘The Society’. As you know there are, or were, two versions of The Danse Society.
I have endured three years of constant sabotage from this woman who spends her time getting everything I do stopped – Facebook pages, gigs, events, ticket sellers, venues, promoters, web page hosts, Twitter. She never stops – it’s so evil just because I chose to have my own version of The Danse Society that sounded like The Danse Society. Anyway good luck to her with passing off V1 as a Danse Society album and turning the name into a joke.
You need a heart and soul to play and produce Danse Society music – it can’t be taught or stolen. I have had three great years as The Danse Society again, we’ve played with Chameleons Vox, Skeletal Family, Sad Lovers & Giants, Modern English, Theatre of Hate, Spear of Destiny and rescued the reputation. However I can’t keep up with such hate so I have to let go – it is sad because the name deserves a better ending than what it has or going to have, sub-standard music, shitty videos everything The Danse Society is not, but under that name.
11) The first sign the toy was broken?
The first sign the toy was broken? It was not a sign, it was a smack in the fucking face. A High Court injunction from our own record company stopping us working until we came up with a hit single. How did this happen? How did we end up trying to be Dead or Alive when we wanted to be the post punk Pink Floyd? Be careful what you wish for kids.
Stay safe. Keep sexy. Lots of love Italia and Accession readers. I hope ‘The Society’ make it over real soon to play Heaven is Waiting, the album, live in its entirety. We do a version of ‘The Night’ better than before and can play ‘Angel’ which we never played live before so pester your promoters.
12) What’s ‘Heaven Is Waiting’ for you?
Heaven IS Waiting.
Founder member of The Danse Society, now The Society.