Transcript read: 10:00 mins (without music)
Podcast interview (with music) ends at 18:12 mins
Introduction by John D Hastings, 2021:
Hi I’m John D Hastings a singer songwriter from North Yorkshire living in South London. I moved down to London in the 70’s for my music career. This is the first of two podcasts of interviews with a brilliant DJ called Tommy Vance, on a radio station called British Forces Broadcasting Services UK. It’s a rare recording from August 1979. I was lead singer in The Stilettos, and I had just signed a publishing deal. For a funny and nostalgic insight into why four naïve lads from Yorkshire jacked their jobs in to seek fame and fortune, listen and enjoy!
Tommy Vance: BFBS UK on a Thursday, it’s time for an experiment on BFBS UK. What we are going to do is we are going to adopt our own group and follow their fortunes, and believe me I know, the hard world of the music industry. Now we’re not going to cheat by taking on an established group with a recording contract signed sealed and delivered. We’re starting out with The Stilettos, two days before they go into the recording studio to record their first professional demo. Now John Hastings and Tommy Atkinson are here from The Stilettos. Gentlemen, welcome to BFBS UK.
John D Hastings/Tommy Atkinson: Hello Tommy
TV: John, err, where did you start?
JDH: I started songwriting quite a few years ago now, but we started doing a lot of club work doing other people’s material and err, after a few years doing that we decided to make a stand ourselves and do my own personal songs as we thought the material was strong enough. And if we stuck at it long enough, we would have a good chance of getting somewhere doing it.
TV: So Tom, what you really started with was an ordinary band going around playing all the numbers that the punters loved.
TA: Yeah, we started in the err, I don’t know if people out there know about this, in the North East [of England] in the Working Men’s Clubs doing other people’s stuff and cabaret type thing y’know. After a while that gets a bit tedious playing other people’s songs and like John here gets the urge to write material and take it from there, y’know. We just want to do our own stuff.
TV: So what you’ve done to date to the moment that you’re sitting here in the studio at the moment. You’ve done your apprenticeship you feel, you’ve served your dues as they say. How long have you actually been playing, both of you?
JDH: I’ve been playing guitar…..eight year now.
TA: About the same, yeah about eight years.
TV: So you’ve done eight years in the business already and now you want to make a break, you know, you want to crack it for yourselves?
JDH: Yeah I decided about three year ago that I was going to be a professional songwriter, come hell or highwater as the saying goes, and err, eventually I think we should get there. And I will be a professional song writer for the band, and I think the band as an overall sound is good enough.
TV: Now you’re also going to play with the band?
JDH: Oh yes I’m rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist for the band
TV: Right. Now what you have brought with you is some demos that you cut where?
JDH/TA: That was a local studio near Middlesbrough
TA: Yes a little wee place called Marske and it was a err, …. like a bungalow, a converted bungalow, a smashing place a really good sound in it.
JDH: Really good friendly atmosphere and we tended to get a good sound from there because we’d already decided on a sound we want, the finished product so we knew exactly what was required and we painstakingly rehearsed to get to that level, so that there was no hitches when we did the actual recordings.
TV: So you did these recordings and with these recordings, right, your original if you like, demos of what The Stilettos want to be and sound like, then what did you do? Did you go out, did you come down to London and go, right “somebody take notice of this lot”?
JDH: Well then at that stage, I came down by myself and I decided I was determined never to go back to my part of the world ‘til I could go back to the lads and say “look lads, we’ve got a deal of some sort of standing, are you willing to come down and we do it wholeheartedly?” From then on and that would be a full-time band because up until that point the lads were still doing a normal 9-5 job, so I was down here for six weeks before I was starting to get the reactions I was looking for.
TV: Actually it was funny, when John phoned up, he was down London, he said err, …I was at work I was plugging furniture I got this phone call “Alright Tom?”, “Who’s that?” “It’s John” He said “Are you sitting down mate?” “No, I’m stood up” “Well sit down then” I said when he told me the news “great” and straight to the boss, that’s it, finished, quit –
JDH: and he never saw his three-piece suite either! He blew that deal! [Laughs]
TA: all my commission gone! [Laughs] All my commission out the window!
TV: So you’re making a go of it as pros, let’s hear the demos that they made in that bungalow, up there near Middlesbrough, this is a track called “Walk Away”
[Plays song “Walk Away” by The Stilettos]
TV: The Stilettos and a track there called “Walk Away”! Now I’m used to listening to music obviously and they’re demos. And people are going to be thinking out there listening to them that, oh they sound a bit fuzzy, there’s not too much presence on it, things like that. So the next stage of the game is you’re going to take the demos that you’ve got and re-record them?
JDH: True, and also a lot of new material that I’ve written since then, in our position
TV: When John phoned you up Tom, when he told you to sit down, what did he actually tell you?
TA: What did he tell me? He said, err, well we’ve got a good chance of getting a recording contract. With no particular company yet, that’s why we’ve got this demo and err, he says it’s a really good chance. For me, that’s the biggest chance I’ve had, I’ve done like I said before in the bands up the North East, we’ve done the big clubs up there, the Fiesta and all this lot. Yeah and for me that was a really big chance. So I was excited about it and I couldn’t wait to pack me job in and that was it.
TV: Straight down to town [London]?
TA: Yeah, straight down to town
TV: It’s a shame that in many ways that you’ve got to come down to London to do it.
JDH: The only place it happens at. This is the nerve centre, this is where it’s all at. It’s the old saying but it’s definitely true, it’s a lot harder down here but err, if you are going to be successful and you are determined this is the place. There is nowhere else in this country, because the people in London, they listen to music, you go to see bands to hear the music not just to go to….
TA: Because being down in London, you’re picking up the sort err, what is it, the vibe
JDH: yeah, it’s a feel, it’s a genuine interest in the actual music that the people are playing. Which doesn’t happen in many places, I can assure you. You can play to a lot of audiences, where they’re not interested, it doesn’t matter how good you are, they’re not really there to listen to the entertainment. There’re just there for a night out and drink the beer.
TA: yeah, the Working Men’s Club, this is a really good example. One band I were in, got to this club, got the gear set up it was a typical Northern flat-cap Working Men’s Club and we went into the dressing room and said to the concert secretary “before we go on, can you put all the house lights down and the stage lights, so the whole club is in complete darkness” and he said “can’t do that lad, sorry son can’t do that” I said “why not, this is our set?” he said “can’t do that, they all want to sit down there at the front and read the paper”! [laughs] You know I couldn’t believe it, so we said “OK keep the lights on”
JDH: We were in a really good one before when we were in the middle of doing a song and all of a sudden the PA went off and this gut starts shouting “and the winners of the meat draw tonight are” – we’re in the middles of a song and that’s about the level it goes
TA: That’s something we’re trying to get away from. But down here we notice that the people really want to listen to something new coming off, and it’s we feel better because we can show them what we’ve got and they’re prepared to listen, so that’s great.
JDH: And we think we’ve got the material now with … in the right time at the right place, y’know and that’s the people here, we’re starting to get a following now and things are going really good.
TV: What sort of gigs are you playing around town?
JDH: We always book our own gigs. What we do, we go into any pubs which we happen to drive pass, where we see live music advertised outside, just go in have a word with the landlord and say we are The Stilettos, we are a Northern band. We’re down here, we’re looking for gigs, would you like to book us in your pub? And they always say, “I am very sorry but we’re fully booked, I haven’t got time to speak to you on anything like this”. So then we have to persuade the guy to give us five minutes of this time, when he hears our music all of a sudden he comes up with a booking out of the blue which he so-called he never had. It’s just a case of winning his friendship and getting past the initial level of conversation, because they’re usually a bit stand offish as a new band, because there’s that many about and you’ve got to be good to get anywhere.
TV: And that’s the absolute truth, determination is the one thing that will always carry you through. But there are so many bands, I mean there are bands left right and centre all over this country.
TA: That’s true, it’s very hard to get into a place because they have a regular band every Tuesday night, the same band y/know, every Wednesday night ….
JDH: There’s one thing, the place where we’ve started to make our own, they had a regular band and they still got it, but all their followers have come over to our night when we play. Because we’ve got something new, more alive and it’s a fresh sound we’ve got y’know ….. And I suppose it’s, they were getting settled in their ways and becoming accustomed to one band all the time. We came on their doorstep and as soon as we started to play their eyes popped wide open, they didn’t know what to think –
TV: You got a reaction?
JDH: Yeah it got a good reaction [laughter] Week by week we’re getting more and more and they’re telling their friends and the ball’s really starting to roll now.
TV: It’s a long, long process of building it up?
JDH: Yeah like I said to Tommy, apart from musical ability though, I think it’s very important you have the personalities amongst the band. Different sorts of personalities to hold it, gel, together. Because they have been a lot of bands who have been in the past, one argument and the lads fall out. But we’ve got something that’s a bit different -
TA: That gets a bit rough when you’re seeing each other every minute of the day, every day, living in each other’s pockets –
TV: It can get very tough
JDH: Yeah, so we don’t have arguments, but we get over it.
TV: Hang on a sec because I’d like to play another track that you recorded also up in the same studio [That’s correct] This is a track by The Stilettos, it’s a demo yet again and let me tell you it’s called “Game of Life”
[Plays “Game of Life”]
TV: The Stilettos there, and a track that they recorded up and around Middlesbrough, called “Game of Life”. Now I’m talking to two of The Stilettos and we’ve sort of adopted them on BFBS UK, we’re going to follow their career. As yet they don’t have a deal as they call it in the industry, with an established record company but they are now going to take the whole thing one stage further. From the two demos that you heard, they are going to go into a bigger London studio and do some re-recording and then try to look for a deal. Where are you going to look first? Is there any company that you’d really like to be with?
JDH/TA: Well it’s obviously the big ones, isn’t it, EMI, WEA, Decca, Virgin. Virgin’s a very good company to be on at the moment, there’s some really hot artists going on right now. We’re looking for the companies which suit our style of music. And as we say, we have a rawness, a cleanness, which is coming out now in a few artists. But Virgin is the excellent sort of company we’d like to be with. Something like that.
TV: You’re going into a larger studio, a 16-track studio right, in London in about a week’s time?
TA: Yeah, it’s a big thing for us, cos the one we used before it’s like an 8-track, this one will give us a bit more scope. Then again, the new stuff we’re doing is going to be more of a live type sound. …and this studio will give us that, y’know, the best sort of sound we need for these demos.
TV: Well I wish you luck, when you’ve done the demos, will you come back? [Sure will] Because it could be an interesting thing to do, to try and follow your career … If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the time!
JDH: We’ve always got the time
TA: For people out there listening, they can follow our careers as well!
TV: Look out for The Stilettos. When they’ve gone into the 16-track studio, they put their demos together there. Then we will get hold of copies of them and get them back into the studio. John Hastings, Tom Atkinson, good luck to you gents.
JDH/TA: Cheers and thanks Tommy
TV: You’ve obviously got the determination and that’s what you need.
JDH: Sure have!
[Tommy Vance/BFBS UK jingle] Podcast interview ends at 18:12 mins.