John D Hastings

Tommy Vance, BFBS UK Interview November 1979, with The Stilettos [Interview two]

Transcript read: 11:00 mins (without music)

Podcast interview (with music, three songs) ends at 22:24 mins

Introduction by John D Hastings, 2022:

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 second of two podcasts of interviews with seasoned DJ Tommy Vance, as broadcast by radio station British Forces Broadcasting Services UK in November 1979. The station followed the music journey of The Stilettos from no record deal to the release of our first single on Ariola BMG. From sleeping rough on Wimbledon Common to living and getting parking tickets in Mayfair London, listen and enjoy!

[Dedication by Tommy Vance to radio listeners]

Tommy Vance: The Tremeloes, from many years ago, it’s called “Silence is Golden” and that‘s especially for Fiona and also for Charles and Yvonne, who are over there with the first RTR ACC/ATT in Hereford. Hope you’re having a good day today. [Music jingle, BFBS UK]

BFBS UK on a Monday, now I’m going to introduce you to one person that you know and one person that you haven’t met actually. And they are 50% of the band called The Stilettos and just to remind you about The Stilettos, they came into our studio in early August this year [1979]. Now at that time they were taking cassettes around pubs and clubs at the time, trying to get live gigs with quite a reasonable degree of success, it’s always a fight to get live work. They came down from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, right, and they bunged their jobs in up there and they came down to London, they were determined for success. They were backed I’m told by a company called Interworld Music, who were trying to get them a record deal. Now, at that time I said why don’t we adopt the group? And just follow their progress, and that’s what we’ve done. So we’ve got two of you in the studio: John we’ve met you before [Yes, true Tommy] and Cliff we haven’t met you before [Yeah, you haven’t]. You’re the drummer? [Yes that’s right] You are from Newcastle?

Cliff Massey: No we’re from Middlesbrough!

TV: Middlesbrough? Why have I got Newcastle written in front of me? Who wrote this?! Quel burko!

John D Hastings: That’s the nearest thing to a Geordie I suppose!

TV: Ha ha, there’s nothing wrong with Middlesbrough squire [There certainly is not] Sorry about that, I’m blushing, it’s disgusting. Still. You haven’t bought any beer down with you?

JDH: Just the odd crate or two [Oh I love that beer in Middlesbrough]

TV: Anyway, so there you were the last time we saw you, you had a little bit of work, but not a lot, didn’t have a record deal.

JDH: Just what we got ourselves gig-wise. And since when Interworld were backing us as you rightly said. Err, we did quite a few gigs which they arranged for us, so they could get record [company] people down to see us and err, eventually we got the reaction we were looking for. That was through Ariola Records [BMG], who we did a private audition for, in a rehearsal studio. And err everything was signed within quarter of an hour.

TV: Yes but prior to that all that

JDH: Yes prior to all that … laughs

TV: Tell is about the slog, because I mean there’s been quite a bit of slog hasn’t there?

CM: Yeah, we had quite a lot of trouble, mainly with our digs, y’know. The first place we were staying at was a house in Southfields wasn’t it [Yeah, near Wimbledon]. And we had to leave there because there were some more people coming in. And we had really, a lot of difficulty trying to find a place. We ended up sleeping in a van and a car on Wimbledon Common ….

TV: That was glamorous for you!

CM: That was pretty rough like

JDH: The life of a pop star!

CM: Then we ended up squatting in Southfields, in an old council house with no electricity, or gas or water, that was really rough

JDH: That’s the first time we’ve been thankful to ICI, cos we were sleeping on polystyrene pallets at the time … yeah

CM: That was pretty bad that. We had to go to the public baths every morning for a bath, a slipper bath [laughs]

JDH: Nothing like luxury

TV: I mean, you didn’t have any money, right? Skint?

CM: yeah broke, totally [Not a penny in the world]

JDH: Yeah, living totally off our gig money, which we were … really struggling to get-

TV: How much were you getting for a gig?

CM: For a gig it varied £20 to £30, something like that

JDH: I mean it depended how generous the pub manager felt, who often used to change his mind halfway through. I mean he’d mention one figure and then we’d pack his place out for him. And he’d already said if we’d pack it he’d double that figure and it never got doubled. He’d just stick to the original £20 to £30, and he’d say if we packed it, which we usually did, we’d get £60. But we never got the £60 we got the £30. And there’s nothing you can say about it. I mean most of the places we were getting return gigs, so we were thankful for just the gigs and the money was just to help us eat and sleep in our squatting quarters. [Laughs]

CM: There was one place, we even got as low as £15.

TV: Now there are four of you in the band, let’s round it off at £20, so that’s £5 a night each. Then you’ve got a van to run [yeah petrol], and your equipment [and chips to buy]. And chips, because I bet that’s just about what you were blimin’ living on as well

CM: Yeah, it was, sausage and chips, that was it [Sausages were a luxury!]

JDH: Yeah we were counting sausages jumping over polystyrene pallets when we were sleeping at night!

TV: oh dear! The struggles you have to go through, and you really do have to struggle

JDH: oh yeah, yeah. When we mentioned earlier in the first interview about determination. If you haven’t got that, just forget it, don’t start.

TV: Yeah because that’s very true, you can get disillusioned very quickly. Pack up and go home and get a job at £60 a week and that’s luxury.

JDH: I mean when you’re playing places and your name starts to appear in the Melody Maker [a music journal], everybody thinks, heroes they’re all driving around in Rolls Royces, they don’t think you’re sleeping in the back of a van on Wimbledon Common. Everybody thinks you’ve got loads of money, it doesn’t work that way, it takes a long, long time.

TV: Well now you’ve got a record deal and your first record came out November 2nd, I think. So you’re with a major record company [Yeah, Ariola] And they are a major record company aren’t they?

JDH: Oh yeah, they’re the sort of company we wanted to get with because they’ve got a bit of personal concern in their artists. And they are building their company up with the artists who are on their books, which is really good, rather than where you’re just a name and a number with a really big company. They take a bit of pride and personal care in their artists. It makes a big difference.

TV: OK then, let’s play the record, here it is

[Plays the A-side of the single “This Is The Way”]

TV: The Stilettos! And a song called “This is The Way” and that’s off their first record. And what stage of the game are you at now? Where are you living, are you still living in the van?

JDH: No, we’re on tour at the moment actually

TV: So you’re living …. actually, getting a bed at night then?

CM: We’re staying at hotels … we’re getting in various beds at night!

TV: What are you trying to say?!

CM: Very late in the morning, usually about half past three, and up again at 8 o’clock for a nice greasy breakfast, and then a 200-mile journey

JDH: And we’re loving every minute of it.

TV: How many gigs are you doing, say, in the United Kingdom now?

JDH: 31 was the original gig list, and that’s a cross section of clubs, hotels, colleges and our major venue is The Music Machine in London.

TV: Which is the sort of place that you’ve got to play

JDH: oh yeah, this is our first tour which we are grateful for and it’s a good chance to promote our name. And this is the first time that people nationwide will have heard of The Stilettos, apart from the [BBC] Radio 1 plays we are getting of Mike Read and Dave Lee Travis, which we are grateful for again. And we are going to do a live radio session on the Mike Read show.

TV: Well, you were on, if you were lucky, say £5 a night when you were kicking around London. How much are you on now?

CM: Varies between about £75 and £200, depends where-

JDH: And also, we get …... at certain venues, we are getting certain percentages of the take, which err, towards the end of the tour, which is what we want because we are trying to build a name up and college-wise, I’m sure we’re have a big following by then. So we’d rather have a percentage of the gate [takings] than a set figure …. Yeah, it’s a shrewd move.

TV: So now it’s sausage, egg and chips?!

CM: and beans! [Real luxury!] and sometimes onions, y’know it depends how it goes!

TV: [Laughs] I’ve got a tape here, of two songs that you’ve done in demo form I think

JDH: Yeah, that’s right, that’s in a 12-track studio and these are future tracks that we are thinking for a future LP, but everything‘s such a gradual progression it’s really good, cos it’s like a snowball going downhill. Everything’s getting better, the studios are getting better, the gigs are getting better, the money’s getting better hopefully

CM: The gigs are doing us a lot of good

JDH: oh yeah, I mean it’s really getting the band together, I mean you’re doing 31 gigs out of 36 nights, you’re going to be a good tight act

CM: and tired act!

TV: Or you fall apart

JDH: yeah or you fall apart. That’s where your dedication comes in, you really need it.

TV: Let’s hear one of these tracks, it’s called “We’re Laughing” [Plays song]

TV: And that’s The Stilettos and a track called “We’re Laughing” and which is at its demo stage at the moment. What’s the biggest disappointment you’ve had Cliff?

CM: The biggest disappointment? [So far] Getting my car towed away twice! [laughs] Money-wise anyway.

TV: Because that’s 25 quid-

CM: 28! When we were staying at a flat in Mayfair [London] above Rags Restaurant. It was terrible, if we weren’t getting tickets, we were getting towed away all the time.

JDH: We were going to get a tow bar fitted to the front and leave the keys in, it’s easier!

TV: Because 28 quid, when you’re only making a small amount of money is a blooming problem [CM: yeah, it is a great deal of problem]

TV: So that’s your biggest disappointment [CM: I reckon so, yeah …]

JDH: And the fact he hasn’t played the Newcastle City Hall yet

CM: Yeah, I want to play Newcastle City Hall, that’s my main ambition

TV: Is that on the gig list?

CM: No, that’s why I’m disappointed! Nah, I’m not really disappointed, I mean, bigger things will come hopefully

JDH: Progression-wise, the venues are building up to places like that and we don’t expect to start at the top, only fools expect that. We’re starting about half-way and we’re working our way to the top. Which will take us a year, two years, it depends but we will get there in the end.

TV: You’ve got that great sense of determination, which is exactly what you evidenced in the last time I saw you, which is great, because that type of determination, I think as well as the talent, the musical ability, the writing and all that stuff, that determination that really inspires record companies to back you

JDH: I mean we’ve been lucky on our first tour, we got a good PA hire company, and the lads who work in the road crew for us, are a good tight unit, where if we get held up in the fog or anything when we’re going to a venue if we all get there with an hour to spare we all muck in. We’re not afraid of a bit of hard work and we’re muck in and help put the rig up and everybody appreciates everybody’s help. I mean we don’t look upon ourselves as superstars because we’ve got a record deal. You’ve got to earn that privilege of being a superstar, you don’t just get it because you’ve got a record deal.

TV: That’s true. Are you going to be working abroad at all?

CM: Hopefully yeah, sometime after February, March. We’ve got another tour of the colleges, all colleges and universities in February and March, and then supposedly we’re going to Germany.

JDH: Yeah we were informed by the manager this morning that he’s lining up a German tour for us which we are really thrilled about because we’ve never gigged outside the country and we’re looking forward to that, very much.

TV: Because Germany is a very very big record market … [oh yeah, yeah] enormous, in fact about the third biggest in the world.

JDH: Yeah I mean, Alan the bass player has never been inside one of these big flying iron aeroplanes y’know. If we can get a passport for him, because we’ve seen the photographs for his passport oh my word, said they caught the eye either side but not the one in the middle!

TV: I wish you all the best, I really do. I admire your determination, providing you don’t lose that then you stand as much chance I would suggest, of winning as anybody else.

JDH: Just before we finish can I thank Swamp Hire, I said I would get a mention in for the lads. That’s our road manager, they’re all good guys.

TV: No problem. The Stilettos, good luck to you!  CM and JDH: Thank you very much.

TV: Here’s the B-side of the single [Plays song]

TV: The Stilettos and “Who Can It Be?” and that’s the B-side to their single, the A-side is called “This Is The Way”. A good, new, young band with determination from Middlesbrough.

Interview published by kind permission of British Forces Broadcasting Services

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