Thursday, 31 May 2012

Interview with Carl Puttnam of CUD, one of Leeds' shining lights.



CUD are not only known for the fact John Peel loved them, but also because they are one of those bands that deserved enormous commercial success, but due to dreadful handling of them by a mainly stupid music industry and despite extensive touring involving hundreds of live dates in the UK and abroad,  they never found it. But they have also never been forgotten by those people who loved and still love their music, like me.

The first time I heard Rich and Strange I nearly crapped myself with joy. Twenty years later I still think it's one of the most perfect pop songs ever. Everything works, melody, lyrics, performance, that fantastic guitar riff and Carl Puttnam's gorgeous, sonorous vocals which many compare quite justifiably to Tom Jones.



More CUD videos on the CUD YouTube channel.

Above: Carl in Andalucian port Cadiz.

To coincide with their 2012 Summer Tour, I recently spoke to Carl:

Jude:
How did you feel when you got your first Peel session?

Carl: I was unexpectedly cool when John Walters rang me up to offer us a session. He said he needed to know within the hour and I said can I call you back? The band were all on their way round for a rehearsal in my cellar, and rather then tell them one at a time, I waited for them all to arrive, and then told them all at once. This sudden attack of "cool", was so uncharacteristic , they didn't believe me, and it was only when I rang John back to say we couldn't do it, that they figured I was telling the truth and relented.

From William Potter's CUD History1987:


16th June: Maida Vale, a maze of corridors, cheap BBC restaurants, and snobbish orchestras. The first Peel session with Dale (Mott the Hoople) Griffin producing. We have no cymbals. It's a basic set up of instruments that won't stay in tune, found drums and less than an album's worth of songs to choose from.
We go for 'You're The Boss', 'Mind the Gap' (about Carl's home of East London/Essex where Carl left and William would move to), 'Don't Bank On It' and crowd pleaser, 'You Sexy Thing', and why not!
Suddenly our basic sound wasmade to sound like a snow plough. Mike drove the van back to Leeds straight after. We got back at 3am, shattered but ecstatic.

We pestered Radio One to put the session out before the end of June so we could get PRS royalties in October. We wanted to spend them on a single.





Jude: What was John Peel like and what memories have you got from the sessions?

Carl: Loads of people ask what was it like meeting him when you play sessions, but the truth is that you record it at an empty Maida Vale on a Sunday afternoon, when John Peel is having a day off. I did meet him on a number of occasions though, and he was a funny sort. Very much the awe-struck fan on occasion and then sometimes cold and aloof. He was very kind to us. I'm not sure that I entirely agree with his "canonisation". The way the media ganged up on the musician who wasn't so besotted by his memory, despite that same media's ignorance of John while he was alive, and the way that the Beeb use his memory.(Jude: Whatever else, the Beeb John Peel page has not been updated since 2007.)

Jude: What inspired you to return to gigging in 2006 more than a decade after the band split up in '95?

Carl: Just the reissue projects that sprang up really, and then, of course, we realised how much we all enjoyed each other and playing.


Jude: The Rich and Strange cover was one of your pieces from your time on your uncompleted degree at Leeds Poly. How do you feel about the irony of that image then being plastered all over Leeds Poly on posters?

Carl: That is something I never thought about before, but will now be my number one gloat.

Jude: Why did you drop out of your fine art degree at Leeds Poly?

Carl: I met a woman who taught Fine Art at Bradford College, who convinced me that passing wasn't all that important. I had completed all my work, I just didnt get my thesis typed-up and handed in. I kind of wish I had these days. And, I'm sure that my inspiration got her degree.

Jude: Have Beefheart and Zappa influenced your work? And what about Serge Gainsbourg?

Carl: Neither Beefheart or Zappa exert an influence over Cud's music, though we all enjoyed Beefheart at the time and Zappa more recently. Serge used to provide intro music for a long time around 1990-1991. But my colleagues hated it in the tourbus. A lot of French literature and cinema makes it into my lyrics.
Isabelle Adjani obviously. Andre GideLeos Carax are all big influences. It's only while rehearsing for this tour that I realised how many songs nod to Gide.


Jude: CUD are renowned for their audience stage invasions. Can you tell us a bit about them?

Carl: We love them. We hate them.

Jude: Have increased security measures over the past decade or so put a damper on this?

Carl: It's all a little more ordinary, so yes. Funny though, we played in Bradford many moons ago and the security were wee fellows, so we gave them warnings about what to expect. "Don't worry about us" they said. Midway through the set and they were packing up, dismantling the monitors which they knew they couldn't protect. HaHa.

Jude: What was it like supporting The Pixies on tour?

Carl: A surprise firstly. They were very nice to us. Always watched us soundcheck and then watched us play from stageside, which felt very complementary. Each musician seemed to be checking out the moves and play of their peer.

Jude: The Pixies' Brixton Academy gig turned out to be their last gig for a decade. What are your memories of that night?

Carl:  We never played with them that night, but watched them as guests.

Back stage, lined up waiting for an audience with the Pixies was a huge queue of rather famous liggers. When some usher came out of the Pixies' dressing room to ask "Are the Cud here? The Pixies would like Cud to visit their dressing room" all the liggers turned towards us, sneering. So we were ushered in and enjoyed The Pixies' renewed aquaintance...my girlfriend's brother was enjoying looking at Kim, when she came over and told him "You got a problem?" I had to intervene, telling her that he was with me.

Jude:What was recording the (never aired) pilot for the Vic and Bob show, ‘Popadoodledandy’ like?



Carl: William couldn't do it, so we drafted in a replacement; Jessica. Six foot tall half japanese and very attractive. Vic and Bob were "in character" all day, or at least that's how it seemed, which made them funny and infuriating by turns. I'm rubbish on telly, which they seemed to like. My woodenness was exactly what they were after. We often spent nights out with Bob. We'd bump into him at a club and share cabs. He is the "nicer one" by common wisdom.

Jude: You were writing a novel, did you ever finish it?

Carl: It is finished. A group of friends got together to write a series of Richard Allen style novels. Each novel revolving about a present day youth "cult" fictional or otherwise. Mine was set in Leeds 6 around the travails of a group of rather well-off students bent on a music career. Easy target really.



Jude: William writes on his history of CUD "2 Dec 1993 A&M Xmas party. Sting shows up but hides in the ‘Star Bar’, where we’re not invited." What do you think about that?

Carl: I think William's having a wee jest. The "Star Bar" was mostly empty but for Sting and Bryan Adams.

Jude: And what do you think about your time with A&M generally?

Carl: We were signed by the MD who promptly left for another company, leaving us with an A&R who hardly understood us and barely liked us both musically and personally, so, while I enjoyed most of our time with the major, it was often quite frustrating artistically and commercially.



Jude: What was it like working with the legendary Sandie Shaw?

Carl: Far from legendary. She is very nice, but a complete fruitcake. That will sound unkind and is unfair. She was fun and full of stories, which I oughtn't repeat and had an irreverent attitude to industry and management of which I was jealous as our bad didn't.


From William Potter's CUD History 1993:

10 Feb
We’re set up in Ray Davies’ Konk Studios, a bit of a maze, and chilly. We put on a loop of the Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’ then record Steve’s drums along with it. Then I put down a basic bass part to give it structure. It sounds terrible so we replace it with a guitar loop and guide vocal. Sandie arrives and is lively and fun, easy to get on with. Turns out she’s teaching now and asked her students if they’d heard of CUD. When she got a positive response, then she agreed to the session. Carl has a great time gassing with her between vocal takes.
The harmonies agreed on push Sandie into a higher range than she’s used to while Carl is singing lower.
It’s a very long, drawn-out day, with photos and video needing to be taken for the project’s publicity. At one point Sandie gets irritated by constant postponements and retreats for a 10-minute mantra meditation.


11 Feb
I lay down a superior bassline. More guitar and vocals are added before a mix we’re happy with is prepared in time for Sandie’s return, this time with her daughter. They try to work out which Monty Python member I resemble. (I fear it is Eric Idle.)




12 Feb
Does our version of ‘Gimme Shelter’ really sound like The Sisters of Mercy’s ‘This Corrosion’?!


24 Feb
Steve has to go to hospital with a pain in his lower leg. It turns out to be a tendon problem he has to rest for a week. And, so do the rest of us. (Well, I’m always working on the Space CUDet fanzines...)


3 Mar
London, ‘Gimme Shelter’ launch at Camden Parkway cinema. Sandie is there, in a shirt Morrissey gave her. There are lots of TV interviews to do, especially for Carl and Sandie. She says how much she enjoyed the recording and finished track. I declined the offer of joining her for a Buddhist Introductory session, opting for boozing at the Good Mixer.


Jude: A fan from Garforth invited you all to tea once, what was that like?

Carl: It was very nice and very strange. We were far from famous but being treated like Boys Inc or JLS or something. Incidentally, it was around that time that we recorded a message for a girl in a coma. She was about 14-16 and had meningitis. Obviously we weren't the reason she got better, I think modern medicine had a hand. I think Will still knows her.



Jude: Did any of you get some of the CUD embroidered boxers on the cover of Once Again?

Carl: Funny you should ask. I have no idea where they went. Steve most likely.

Jude: Would you think about putting CUD underpants into production for fans to buy?

Carl: We did socks, pillow cases and windscreen banners, so maybe.



Jude: You and William have both had Megablocks characters named after you in Judge Dredd. How did that come about?

Carl: I dont know, but it's good isn't it?

Jude:  You have a vineyard in France, how did you acquire it and are you producing wine from it?

Carl:  My Brother in law (sort of) and I own it. It cost us peanuts.We have vines on the lower parts and olives on the steeper slopes. The wine is red, we don't know what variety, but strong, dark and tannic with aroma of raspberry. It was all obsolete land before we got it. We just cleared it up and let whatever was growing there carry on growing. Grapes, olives, thyme and a whole load of fruit trees.

Jude: Do you speak French?

Carl:  Bonjour.I get by. And when I am around for a while get pretty comfortable.



Jude: You got into a spat with Primal Scream over a drum at Futurama...what happened? Is Bobbie Gillespie as much of an arse as he's often portrayed in the press?

Carl: We'd already had a number of unfortunate mishaps with "the Scream". Following one incident, a message arrived in Leeds telling me to hi-tail it out of town, cos "the Scream" were coming to get me.
I laughed.

At Futurama, it was another misunderstanding that escalated into anger, because of this ongoing thing. I'd like to say it was all their fault, but who knows? To be fair to Bobbie, it was always the rest of the band, "TH" Robert and the roadies, and their threats were as comic book as their music.

Jude: Have you ever met Martin Bedford, the Sheffield artist and legendary Leadmill poster designer who seems to have met every notable musician on the planet?

Carl: No. Who He? Maybe I'm just not that notable (well you never know.)

Jude: Yes you are. Anyway, he's the subject of my next Into View, he's got an exhibition on at the moment in Sheffield's Porter Brook Gallery.

Finally, a question from a recent live online interview by CUD with their fans on Facebook.

On the set of Rich and Strange video shoot

Mark Stubley: What's your views on the whole download culture for music these days? Is it making music a worthless disposable product? Or a great way to get new music to an audience?

Carl: It's a bit of both for me. I'm sad in some ways that your super rare record is just a download away. I used to enjoy the crazy collector's thrill of finding rare stuff. I dont believe it's killing the business though. The people who kill the music business are the business. They mostly hate music, hate musicians and hate punters. Just look at your 'Istory...




A final bit of trivia, CUD as footballers for NME's 70s themed Xmas 1992 issue. After the shoot all the NME journos ligged along with the band back to the Columbia Hotel, which is a bit like a London version of New York's Chelsea Hotel, where in the early 80s I used to hang out (in the Columbia, not the Chelsea) with my then boyfriend Roddy Frame.


CUD as footballers for NME's 70s themed Xmas 1992 issue. 

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