Bands come and go and twenty years later seemingly reform. However, the news that The Darling Buds had got back together was greeted with several jumps of joy by yours truly. Being one of the first touring bands I ever saw live back at Nottingham Trent Polytechnic (as it was then) in 1988, they've always held a special place in my heart. Not to mention written and recorded some of the finest singles from that era too.
Originally formed in Newport two years earlier, the Buds released their debut 45 'If I Said' in 1987 and went on to release thirteen singles and three albums to varying degrees of chart success both here and in America. Having disbanded in 1993, the band got back together seventeen years later to play a benefit gig for John Sicolo, the owner of Newport venue TJs who passed away in 2010.
Since then, they've played a number of headline shows and festivals and it's at Indietracks prior to their Sunday afternoon slot on the main stage where DiS caught up with vocalist Andrea Lewis - the only founder member in the reformed line up - and guitarist Matt Gray.
DiS: What made you reform The Darling Buds?
Andrea Lewis: A friend of ours passed away a few years back, and we were asked to play a tribute day for him in Newport. I really wanted to do it, so I got a band together and after a few rehearsals it started coming together really well. Then we got asked to do other shows off the back of that, so here we are.
DiS: Indietracks is the only UK festival you're scheduled to play this summer. Why did you choose this one?
Matt Gray: It's difficult to get us all together most of the time. We've had to turn down several this year for that reason. Andrea Lewis: We did New York Popfest in May and then we go to Murcia for Lemonpop.
DiS: I guess that makes a tour unlikely?
Andrea Lewis: I'd say so at this moment in time. But it is great being invited to play at so many festivals. It's also given us an opportunity to catch up with a lot of people we haven't seen in years.
Matt Gray: We treat every gig as if it's our last one.
Andrea Lewis: It's like an outing. We don't get out that often!
DiS: You've three albums worth of material and a host of singles and b-sides as well. How do you decide what to include in the setlist? Are there any songs which are unlikely to be revisited this time around?
Andrea Lewis: We don't rehearse that much so it is difficult to try out some of the really old songs we haven't played that much.
Matt Gray: The setlist pretty much picks itself. We don't tend to think too much about the ones we don't play.
Andrea Lewis: The set seems to have gone down well so far. Touch wood, that will continue.
DiS: You used to cover Elvis Presley's 'Love Me Tender' in your live set. Will that be making a return?
Andrea Lewis: No. We haven't done any covers for a while. Mainly because we can't fit everything we want to play in the set as it is. We did a cover of Low's 'Just Make It Stop' a couple of years ago for a charity gig at our local pub.
Matt Gray: We're not against playing covers but it's difficult keeping the set to forty-five minutes for a show like the one we're playing here.
DiS: How many songs feature in an average Darling Buds set?
Andrea Lewis: 23-24 for an hour and about 18-19 for forty-five minutes. We've had to drop 5 today and I won't be able to speak in between either!
DiS: You were one of the most successful indie bands of the 1980s with several official album and singles chart placings and a Top Of The Pops appearance for 'Hit The Ground'. Do you see any parallels between The Darling Buds and any current bands?
Matt Gray: Definitely, especially at the minute. Alvvays are brilliant. I think the sound we became associated with is coming round again and if we've helped influence other bands that's great.
Andrea Lewis: It's a weird one really. In New York for example people only really started getting into our music over the past five or ten years. We weren't even around at that time, so there's definitely a lot of new people out there listening to us which is nice. Whether they found us through mediums like Spotify or iTunes where it gives you options for similar sounding bands to what you're already listening to I don't know? When I was a kid we had television programmes like Top Of The Pops where the whole family would huddle round every week to watch their favourites. Nowadays there's nothing like that.
Matt Gray: I never understood the concept of the charts anyway. They were designed by industry people only concerned with sales figures and profit margins. Music shouldn't be a competition.
DiS: Do you get to hear much new music these days?
Andrea Lewis: I listened to the Mammoth Penguins album on the way down today and thought it sounded fantastic.
Matt Gray: The Ethical Debating Society are one of my favourite bands at the minute. Thee Faction are great as well. Sleaford Mods I love.
Andrea Lewis: That's the thing with having so much access to new music, a lot of it goes in but because we haven't bought it, scrutinised the lyrics and got the whole package, it's sometimes easy to forget.
DiS: Of the band's three albums, Pop Said, Crawdaddy and Erotica, if you had to choose a favourite which one would it be?
Andrea Lewis: That's quite hard because they were all written at different times. I was only eighteen or nineteen when we were writing the songs that ended up on Pop Said. Since then we've written and recorded a lot of material and looking back, I guess I'm happy with all of it. We evolved over the eight years we were together and took a lot of different influences from all kinds of bands, tried working with different producers, different tunings, all kinds of things. So I think each record has its place, albeit in very different ways.
DiS: Playing all three albums in chronological order is akin to listening to three different bands, especially the contrast in sound from Pop Said to Erotica.
Andrea Lewis: I agree, and I think if we were to make a fourth album now it would be even more diverse. I'm glad they're all different rather than three albums sounding exactly the same. Our influences changed over the years from when we started, and each producer we worked with had their own ideas as well.
DiS: You worked with a couple of highly respected producers back then in Pat Collier and Stephen Street. Which one had the biggest impact on the band?
Andrea Lewis: I really enjoyed working with Stephen Street. He brought a lot out of us and I think we surprised ourselves as a result. He encouraged us to try new ideas.
Matt Gray: What's interesting are some of the producers we could have worked with and didn't. Bob Mould and Scott Litt for instance. It would have been interesting to see how the second album would have turned out with those two.
DiS: You signed to Sony in 1988 after the release of your third single. Looking back, do you think we went to a major too early or would you do the same again if given the chance?
Andrea Lewis: We were really young, and we went on this rollercoaster wave with our management who think they always know best. When you're as new to the music business as we were it didn't feel right to challenge their decisions even if they didn't seem right. So we just went with it. Maybe it was too soon?
Matt Gray: But then the band also probably went on a lot longer than it would have done without major label backing. Sony helped us establish ourselves in the States when things were fading back in the UK. They could so easily have forgotten about us.
Andrea Lewis: We saw their backing as a source of income. Musically we tried to retain as much of our sound as possible. We didn't let ourselves be manipulated. But at the same time we also wanted our music to be seen and heard by a wider audience, and by getting exposure on television and daytime radio that's what being on a major label can do so much quicker. We didn't so it as a negative thing even though we were a little nervous. We just went with it. It was actually our independent label Native that encouraged us to sign with Sony. They were also our management so they got a massive payout when we signed, which I guess was a massive conflict of interests but at the time we didn't really notice what was going on there. At the time, all we wanted to do was make records and go on tour. We didn't think about the logistics or where the money's coming from. We lived for the moment.
DiS: With the benefit of hindsight is there anything else you'd change if you had the opportunity to do so?
Andrea Lewis: We wouldn't have split up!
Matt Gray: For the last two or three years I remember we used to say to one another if it all stopped today we'd be fine. We could just go back to our day jobs. I think everyone realised we had a shelf life at the time. We were never under any illusions we were gonna be the next Pixies or take it to another level. So we really enjoyed the ride as it were.
Andrea Lewis: We were living in the States around the time the band were splitting up, and we were all homesick, between deals and with other projects in the pipeline so there were lots of factors why it came to an end. We weren't fed up with each other or anything like that.
Matt Gray: We still remained friends after we came back. That's why getting back together was fairly easy. It's just the commitments to other things that occasionally make it difficult. No one in this band sees this as another shot at making it or anything like that.
Andrea Lewis: It's nice to be able to just go out and play without that kind of pressure.
DiS: Do you think a band like The Darling Buds would be granted the same opportunities if they were just starting out now? It certainly seems a lot harder for new artists to establish themselves these days than it was back then.
Andrea Lewis: Why is that though? Is it because less people go to gigs?
Matt Gray: It's more about the situation with illegal downloads. People don't buy albums like they used to back then. But then if you look at the opportunities provided by the internet it can also be a fantastic tool for new bands to use. You can put a track online and the whole world can hear it which is something that could never happen we first started. Then, you needed someone behind you to fund it. So from that perspective I'd argue it's probably better now. Granted, we had Radio 1, Top Of The Pops and the weekly music press but everything was put in a big funnel and if you didn't come out at the bottom your music was lost. It was a blessing and a curse really, whichever way you look at it. In terms of being signed it's definitely harder for bands now. The investment from labels isn't there as much as it was back then, but the opportunities to be heard are better.
DiS: The Darling Buds enjoyed a fairly positive relationship with the music press first time around. Did you pay much attention to what was being said or written about the band back then?
Andrea Lewis: We did see it as a massive compliment. A major thing to us was being played by John Peel, because that then created a knock on effect of Sounds, NME and the Melody Maker giving us positive reviews. It was quite surreal to see magazines and radio shows we'd been fans of for years now championing us. But then we were also grounded enough to be prepared for the inevitable backlash when it arrived. We'd seen it happen all the time so we just buggered off to America for a bit and let them get on with it.
DiS: Someone has uploaded those two Peel Sessions on You Tube, and listening back, it's probably fair to say they capture the essence of the band's live sound more than any of your other recordings.
Andrea Lewis: The whole experience was brilliant. It was such a buzz being at Maida Vale studios. We had one day to get these four tracks finished.
Matt Gray: Maida Vale is such a fantastic studio, and for a smaller band it really does seem like the best studio in the world.
Andrea Lewis: At the time we'd never seen anything like it.
DiS: Will there be any new material in the foreseeable future?
Andrea Lewis: Not in the set today but there's a few ideas in the pipeline. Matt's got loads and I've put together a few vocal melodies.
Matt Gray: We have been playing two new songs at some shows and there's a couple of others on the back burner.
DiS: Are there any plans to record and release them?
Andrea Lewis: We haven't really discussed it as a band, but I think the answer is Yes.
Matt Gray: When, where and how we'll release them is anyone's guess at the minute. We definitely want to record them in the studio. It's just finding the time to do it.
Andrea Lewis: There's definitely a natural progression from where we left off with Erotica. When we reformed we talked about introducing new material. It's something I wanted to do from the start.
Matt Gray: It makes sense to write new material. We're under no illusions the majority of people at our shows are there for the old songs. But it's also nice to have a couple of new ones up our sleeves as well.
DiS: Andrea, you set up a theatre school in Cardiff in 2004 with your husband - The Children's Academy of Stage Training. Is that still your main priority or will the band become the main focus once more?
Andrea Lewis: That's still my main priority. Me and my husband set up the business. Our kids go to it. Even before The Darling Buds happened I was acting and doing a lot of work in theatre. Putting the Darling Buds shoes back on has been great fun more than anything else. It's like getting your old identity back which is a nice thing to have.
DiS: Finally, have you got any advice for new bands just starting out?
Matt Gray: Don't listen to advice!
Andrea Lewis: Do your own thing and gig as much as possible.
Matt Gray: People used to throw advice at us all the time and most of it was shit.
For more information on The Darling Buds visit their Facebook page.
Photo by Stephanie Webb.