Friday, May 20, 2016

20 Questions with 80sMusicGirl-An Interview with Critically Acclaimed Author of Sawdust Caesars: Original Mod Voices-Tony Beesley

Hello and Welcome to 20 Questions with 80sMusicGirl, the interview today is with Author/Musician and life-long music fan Tony Beesley!


1. Hello Tony, how about you start us off by introducing yourself.

I am a self-published author and owner of ‘Days like Tomorrow Books’. I have a huge passion for, perhaps obsession of, music and all the relative pop culture that surrounds it, in particular the early punk period of the 70’s and the sixties and beyond Mod culture … but also, much more besides. Following the loss of my day job earlier last year, I decided to go full-time with my writing and publishing venture, which had started back in 2008 publishing six books in total so far. I also write free-lance for magazines, namely reviews for Vive Le Rock magazine, but I have also written for other features for publications such as ‘All Mod Icon’ and ‘My Kind of Town’ etc. I also occasionally contribute to other writer’s books such as ‘Thick as Thieves: personal Situations with The Jam’ etc.


2. Where are you from originally?

I was born in a former pit village, Rawmarsh in the mid-60’s, which is situated a few miles out of Rotherham and relatively close to Sheffield. I still live there.

3. Do you come from a big family?

I have two older brothers, considerably older, my eldest brother, Paul, was 18 when I was born and Glen was 11. So, there’s quite a big age gap between us. My dad was a lifelong working miner and as a result of his work underground this led to his premature death aged 53 in Feb 1978. My Mum worked in the munitions factory during WW2 and then spent her life bringing us kids up and holding down various part-time jobs to help make ends meet. My parents were both very strong-willed individuals of – shall we say – the old school types. They were honest, hard, kind and firm but fair people and also great parents. I wouldn’t say it was a big family in size, but it soon expanded when my eldest brother had kids, who were not that much younger than myself. As a family we had our ups and downs but I mostly look back on those days of growing up in the late-60’s and 1970’s as happy and great days. So much so, that I wrote a self-biographical book in 2008 of those days, laced with humour, mischief and nostalgia, based around my experiences and how the world around me was changing. The book is called ‘Kid on a Red Chopper Bike: growing up in the 1970’s’ and has received lots of positive feedback from readers who could relate to the memories.


4. What were some of your hobbies growing up?

Wow, what a question, a great one too. Born in 1965, I was a part of a childhood generation that was obsessed with the Second World War and the many historical battles of old combined with living in a time of the great toy revolution. As a consequence, the toys, games and colourful attractions for a wide-eyed kid growing up at the time were huge. I started on plastic toy soldiers, small Airfix ones then slightly larger Britains Swoppets, Timpos, Crescent and Lone Star Wild West figures. All of these were accompanied, when funds allowed, with same scale Wild West forts and buildings, Stagecoaches and war vehicles, cannons etc. Countless fireside and back garden battles took place with these small and formidable regiments and the fun we had was truly captivating, a time when us kids really did use our imagination. Of course, TV played a huge influence with the many war films, Westerns, TV shows, Gerry Anderson puppet shows and much more.  I then moved onto Airfix models. Lego was also popular as was Scalextric race sets. Also plastic guns for scraps with my mates on the nearby derelict garages, fields and quarries. I also collected gum cards which we would swap in the playground and I was a bit of a budding artist too, spending hours copying artwork from the many comics we read. I could go on forever with stories of the hobbies and mischief of those days, hence my writing a book about it all. I know it all sounds dreary-eyed and looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses, and it’s true we had some hard times too, but those days were magical and I wouldn’t swap them for anything.


5. What were your aspirations as a young man?

This would be when music entered my life really. Whilst starting my pop music journey throughout the early to mid-70’s, with sneak plays and the adoption of my next brother up, Glen’s Glam records such as Bowie, T-Rex, Sweet, Mott the Hoople etc. and listening to my mate down the street, Andy’s collection of Sparks, Suzi Quatro and so on. it would not truly be until punk arrived that I really began to have serious aspirations relating to music in my life. Just prior to punk, I had been indulging in regenerated rock ‘n roll records too. Whereas growing up I always fancied the typical lad’s dreams of being a soldier, a Grand Prix racer and all that, now I wanted to be member of a band.

When I say be a member of a band, I still wasn’t sure how or what I wanted to play or anything. I had no musical background and the only instrument I had ever possessed was a cheap acoustic guitar I had been bought for Xmas around 1973, which I would bang the strings to and mime to Slade records. Now, I was sure of the fact that I wanted to express how I felt via angry and frustrated poetry/ song lyrics – this combined with a deep desire to be creative in some form or another. The impulsive energy and non-conformity of punk fit me like a glove. In my suburban ‘out-of-town’ surroundings, myself and a couple of good mates managed to embrace the new sounds and ideals and create our own vision and version of what punk was to us, something quite removed from how the more informed and hip punks in the big cities would cultivate, but nevertheless it was real!

Through this new set of aspirations and ways at viewing the world around us, I set upon creating a new wave fanzine called (quite aptly) ‘Clash’, which was followed by other attempts, none seeing more than 4 or 5 self-wrote and drawn issues each. I continued vexing my teenage angst within words and poetry and also started to draw again. On the clothes front they became gradually tighter and harsher and my old Airfix model paints were utilised to paint slogans across jackets. I also created home-made badges. This period was one of constant change, discovery, and experimentation and on a personal level an array of mixed-up emotions (my dad’s passing resulted in me – unknowingly - carrying an inner un-expressed grieving around for years). Conclusively, I suppose, looking back to those times, my real inner aspiration as a young man was to be creative and self-expressive and make my personal mark on the world in some form or another. I did eventually form bands and continued to write fanzine … embracing music and all of its profound influences from there on. The journey had just begun, I suppose!


6. You said your hometown was relatively close to Sheffield. Now I'm not going to ask you what bands came from Sheffield, because it would be more like, what bands DIDN'T come from Sheffield back then. Did it surprise you that such amazing artists came from such humble beginnings?

To be honest, I rarely gave it that much thought. I suppose you take for granted what’s already on your doorstep. There had already been some really good local bands on the scene before I was old enough to see them or even know of them to be honest: bands such as The Extras and The Prams for example. I enjoyed lots of local bands ranging from [reputedly] the area’s first punk band Hobbies of Today (who played their very first gig at our local Youth Club in May 1977) to The Diks, Stunt Kites, Cabaret Voltaire, Uncool Dance Band, I’m So Hollow, and a little later on Artery (one of my faves). Also early Pulp, The Injectors, Vision, Veiled Threat and others. Of course, The Human League were popular and I much preferred their earlier darker electronic avant-garde sound than the revived pop line-up as popular and enjoyable as that was.

 A lot of these bands would also be seen as support acts to more known ones such as The Fall etc. but I would also venture to small pubs and venues (at a considerably under drinking age ) to see some of them. It’s only later, when I started to look back a little, that I fully appreciated how lucky the area was to have such a diverse and original-sounding clutch of bands and talent around to enjoy, though I do struggle to recall exact and clear memories of many of the gigs I attended. I do think that the Sheffield and surrounding areas’ musicians had a different approach to the rest of the country. Punk was mostly more of an attitude and influence injected into the music as opposed to a copy of the three chord punk blueprint. It was much more industrial and stark in sound, I suppose in reflection of the local steelworks industry around us. I am compelled to mention the help and positive focus on the local bands scene that music journalist, Martin Lilleker gave, including a fantastic source of info within his book ‘Beats Working For a Living’, a book that influenced my first book ‘Our Generation’. Sadly, Martin passed away earlier this year and will be sorely missed.


7. Very sorry to hear that your father passed at such a young age. Did your parents, in those early days, have any influence on what you should choose as a career as an adult?

My parents didn’t really have a huge influence on me at that particular time, to be absolutely honest. They were of a totally different age - the war generation – and they were already in their 40’s when I was born. Not to say that they weren’t a huge significant part of my growing up, as they were and it was more in later years, especially when bringing up my own children, that I realised how much of a profound influence they really had on me.

In hindsight, looking back to that important time of growing up and my immersion into music etc I have some very happy memories of my parents. My Dad laughing at me when I attempted to self-pierce my ear, my Mum’s patience with my constantly changing clothes attire and outspoken views. My Mum was much-loved by all of my mates, she never flinched or complained about the unconventional styles of my friends who were always welcomed in our house and our front room became a meeting place and social core for many of my friends. The records were constantly playing, kids dying their hair, laughing, singing, playing instruments and so on. They all speak very fondly of her to this day..


8. When you speak of your hobbies, the intricacies of your interests really amaze me, Do you feel that having such detailed hobby interests possibly set up your life path later as an author?

I think that the attention to detail in all things is something that subconsciously led me onto my writing, yes. Amongst over things too and it would be never be a straight journey to that end, either. I don’t think it’s a decisive thing really … more a matter of circumstance(s). One thing leads to another and you don’t realise at the time where it’s all taking you, that’s my experience of it all, anyway.


9. You talk about how you and your friends began to create your "own vision and version of what punk was to us" Are there any audio recordings of these?

Again, it’s really hard to define what that vision actually was. The adult version of ourselves all too easily clouds and erodes that period of naivety and sense of discovery. I try to immerse myself in my writing to how I actually felt like at that time. It’s almost like method acting in a way, getting into that character I once was, quite taxing too and mentally draining. I did use this way of reflection in my writing for a number of my earlier books.

So, back to that vision of punk? I suppose it was a very innocent and poorly informed one. We had very few peers or role models as such and took out of punk what we saw fit to use. We had missed that early surge of punk, but were really keen to catch up. Primarily it was the vibrant energy and creativity etc - all those things I spoke of earlier … it was a collective understanding that much more was possible, the old ‘have a go yourself’ mentality. So, in our suburban surroundings we rebelled against conformity, our parents, teachers and the pop culture around us.

We did this via clothes (almost all of which were improvised from existing ones, rarely bought from a shop already formed), poetry, song lyrics, writing, humour and the strong yearning to play an instrument. All of these were stripped of sentimentality and expressed with youthful exuberance. Our hair was (mostly) self-cut to appear harsh and unruly, our attitudes reflected what we were, not what we were being taught. Of course, much of this was all bullshit, really, teenage angst and typical hang-ups, raging youthful hormones and a distinct adversity to fitting in: saying no to the adult world wherever possible. Every generation since the 50’s has done it in one form or another … this was just our way and our time!

With regards to the audio, well there’s nothing of my earliest attempts at music, thank God ha ha. My first song ‘The Tramps’ - a school years study on the exclusion of the homeless in society -was wrote in 1978, and, although we did record some very rough recordings on cassette, they were never kept and more than likely recorded over by a John Peel radio session. Some later songs such as ‘Rearrange’ in 1982, which was a call for a new vision beyond punk, I do have the lyrics for, but not the basic home demo that was made, though I have searched for years to find it among the 100’s of old cassettes as I did keep that one for a while. I wrote a song called ‘Just for a Chance’ which was a rally against Terrorism in the late 70’s and early 80’s and I do have a very rough guitar and vocals home demo of that too. The songs I wrote for Control, Reaction and later Mod band The Way, many are preserved on cassettes, including a handful of gig recordings, rehearsals, and a studio demo. Some of these can be found on YouTube



10. Do you still have any of the fanzine's still around to share?

I don’t have any editions of ‘Clash’ and I only have a torn front page of ‘Ghetto’ fanzine. These were merely a few crudely put together issues, a sort of blueprint and learning experience for later. I never even sold any issues, just created them and shared with some friends. There are a few copies of my 80’s fanzine ‘Populist Blues’ knocking around. The 4 issues sold around a few hundred. Sadly, I don’t even have a copy of the ‘Populist Blues: punk 10 years on’ special which I did in 1986.


11 So much history has passed in your life and now you are an accomplished writer, tell us how that all began. Tell us about your first book?

My first book came about by pure chance. I had shelved half-hearted manuscripts numerous times and had left one of these in the magazine rack, where my son (who was around 17 at the time) pulled it out and started reading it. I had forgotten all about it, but was surprised by his enthusiasm and encouragement. Between him and my wife, Vanessa, they both convinced me to have a proper go at it and from that chance occurrence; I began working on my first book ‘Our Generation’.

I have to be perfectly honest and admit, I really had no idea about writing a book as such, let alone the formatting, design, structure and many other technical aspects, but I had nothing to lose, so I gave it my best shot. This first book was a huge learning curve of trial and error, adapting, absorbing information and so much more. I did countless interviews, contacted by phone, email or in person scores of people who may wish to be a part of the book which was to be an aural account of the punk and Mod revival generation of Sheffield and the surrounding areas, an untapped source of history, really. The research was intense. Thankfully, I had kept a huge archive of old NME’s and Sounds etc. from my youth which were invaluable for dates, info and such like. People also came forward with old fanzines, personal photos and their memories and it started to gel pretty quickly. I got back in touch with an old friend Dave Spencer who offered to design the book’s cover (subsequently he has done amazing jobs for each of my following books). Another positive aspect was that I was remembering old stored away and almost forgotten memories of my own, which I added in there, but most profoundly it was a time of rekindling old friendships and picking up where we had left off many years previously. I tried to gain interest from a few publishing houses, some showed mild interest, but nothing solid, so I decided to go for it myself … the old D.I.Y punk spirit of having a go was still very much intact.

‘Our Generation’, I now look back on with a critical eye and can see how primitive and basic it was, yet it also had a certain charm too and without that book and everything I learnt, I would never have been able to make a start. For me, it’s all about learning from mistakes made and improving as I go along and that book, and all those fantastic people associated with it, gave me a chance to actually become a self-published writer and set my own publishing company up, which is called ‘Days Like Tomorrow’ books named after an old song of The Way’s, the Mod band I was in during the 80’s.


12. How many books have you written all together?

Six books so far, though a number of prospected books have been either shelved or put on the back burner. My most accomplished and successful book title has been ‘Sawdust Caesars: original Mod Voices’ a huge project of 450 pages, my first hardback book and one that has been amazingly received worldwide from magazine reviews, critics and readers and, as previously mentioned, Paul Weller himself. The book chronicles the whole history of Mod from its earliest beginnings in the 1950’s throughout the classic sixties era and onto the revival of the late 70’s and beyond taking in Acid Jazz, Britpop and the present day Mod scene: virtually every aspect of Mod culture and includes 100’s of rare photos. I managed to track down numerous original Mods and capture their stories in their own words, a formula that seems to work very well as so many can relate to those individual accounts, often reflecting their own experiences.


13. Do you travel much as a writer?

In context … not as much as I would like to. I regularly visit places such as Lincoln, where I made a great number of new friends during my work on ‘Sawdust Caesars’. The town features prominently in the book as do a good few Mods from that area. Lincoln is one of my favourite places. There’s a great and very friendly Mod/Soul crowd there and a superb record shop ‘Back to Mono’ run by Jim Penistan and the support from these people, significantly Glen Field who runs the A Lib club with his brother Lance, has been amazing. Also Eric South, Kate Harrison, Wiggy and a whole bunch of others who have been supportive and helpful. Other places I visit for book-related ventures are York and Scarborough and, of course, Sheffield itself.

14. How much more do you think your writing has fulfilled your life?

It’s hard to say how much and where and when, but I would say as a whole, it’s certainly changed my life dramatically: not from a financial aspect as it’s very unstable in that area and certainly not an easy and quick way of earning a living. Plus there’s no security as such. Thankfully, I have received lots of positive reviews and feedback for my books and this is the most rewarding aspect. My initial motivation was to get real stories and experiences out there on book shelves in order to preserve the memories and present an alternative version to what we most commonly read about. I suppose, I have achieved a positive amount of that and it remains my driving force moving into the future as there’s much more to explore and write about.


15. I'm reading the first page of Away from the Numbers and you're meeting with Paul Weller during the Style Council years, tell me how amazing that had to have been to meet your hero!

Well, I won’t lie, it was amazing. That actually wasn’t the first time to be honest. I first met Paul very briefly in The Jam as Paul and the band were signing things for us fans. When I say met, I said ‘Hello’ ha ha! The next time was backstage at a Style Council gig a few years before the one you mention. Both occasions were memorable and special memories for me, especially the 1985 one, in which I got to talk to Paul about our band The Way and pass over a demo tape to his sister, Nicky, who later gave it to Paul. I suppose it was a bit surreal really, after all those years of listening to The Jam and the many memories attached, but on each occasion Paul was friendly and accommodating, appearing quite shy really, in a way. When Paul sent me a postcard last year congratulating me on ‘Sawdust Caesars: original Mod Voices’, saying how much he had enjoyed it … well that was a huge high point for me as a writer.


16. What’s your next project?

My next project, which I am working on at present, is the follow-up to ‘Sawdust Caesars: original Mod Voices’. Like the first one, this new volume will be a huge project and probably equal to its 450 pages. This one – titled ‘Mojo Talkin’; under the Influence of Mod’ digs even deeper into Mod’s impact and
influence on individuals and mediums across the decades from the late 50’s to the present. This volume will ideally complement the first one, whilst bringing lots of new angles and subject matter into the equation. It’s a really exciting venture and, hopefully, will be received as positively as its preceding volume.


17. Your son seems very interested in your work, would you encourage him to become a writer also?

Yes, he shows interest and does share some of my tastes in music. We spend time listening to The Clash, Weller, Post-Punk sounds etc. and I introduce him to any new sounds I may be picking up as he did me some years back with the early Arctic Monkeys (Alex Turner’s Dad taught both myself and my son, Dean at school). I think it’s healthy to exchange taste’s and opinions across generations. To our chosen soundtrack (when we have the time) we also talk about the world’s problems and social change etc. bouncing opinions around. Would I encourage him to be a writer? No, not really. It has to be something you cultivate and nurture yourself, obviously with the help and support of others, but the inclination has to be there already. I can’t say I have noticed that in either of my sons, so far, to be honest. They both are happy in what they do, which in turn keeps me happy.


18. You said that the positive receptions and feedback remain a “driving force moving into the future”, what do you think the future holds for you as you continue writing about these real stories and events?

To be honest, I don’t plan too far ahead into the future. I allow ideas and then projects to evolve. I can’t write to demand, so I couldn’t really choose a definitive subject out of the blue and write about it. All of my books that have been seen to the end and published, have all been projects that seem to capture me by chance, somehow. But, in effect, I think there are lots more to write about no matter what, so hopefully plenty more books to come.
I also want to publish other books by independent authors, which is something I am working on as well.


19. Refresh my memory, you spoke of having met The Clash, but sadly there were no pictures taken. Tell me that story.

Having already seen the Clash on their ‘London Calling’ tour, one of the greatest gigs and musical epiphanies of my life, I later managed to hear about a gig at the Sheffield Lyceum in Oct 1981 and me and a mate got tickets in time before it sold out. This was a period of transition for The Clash. Their previous album [triple] ‘Sandinista’ had been critically mauled for being unfocused, self-indulgent and moving away from what fans – in general – expected from them.. It certainly was far removed from their early work. I, personally enjoyed it a lot. So, with all of this in mind, we were keen to see and hear how they had progressed from the last time.

On the day of the gig, which was a Sunday, me and my mate went up in the afternoon, hoping to get on the guest list somehow (It was often a case of being there in the afternoon to help move the gear in with the road crew, which got you a pass, something I had done for bands such as The Undertones and 999, previously). We sneaked through the venue’s side entrance a few times, seeing support band Theatre of Hate do their sound-check, but each time were thrown out. As the afternoon went on, we spotted the famous Clash car with CLASH number plates and asked a Rasta guy (who may have been their DJ?) if he needed any help? He asked us to carry some boxes into the venue and then asked us our names to add to the guest list. Needless to say, we were over the moon.

When the evening arrived and the doors opened, we decided to sell on our tickets to those without any … making sure we adhered to our punk principles and not charge them anymore than the ticket’s face value. As we queued up, we were asked for our tickets and said we were on the guest list, only to be told by the door men, that our names were not on there. Panic set in! We persisted that they re-check and by chance he saw them in tiny writing right at the bottom of the list. We were in!

I got to speak briefly to Mick Jones of the band in the crowd and was surprised by how slight and thin he was as opposed to the photos in the NME and on stage etc. Following an amazing gig, mixed with Clash classics, anthems and recent songs, the venue began to empty. We got chatting to a London punk lad called Frank and he persuaded us to let him sleep over at my place (he didn’t yet realise that we were walking twelve miles home after the gig). Then, Joe Strummer, Paul Simenon and Nicky ‘Topper’ Headon appeared from backstage to talk to the small gathering of fans left in the venue. I got my Clash t-shirt signed by all three members and also the inside of my leather jacket on the red lining. Joe Strummer was friendly, but appeared to be stoned, which wasn’t unusual for the time. 

Paul and Topper were very chatty and asked us where we were from etc. we relayed questions  back and forth, though time has eroded exactly what we all said. Then we had photos taken with them both. Sadly, these didn’t turn out when we took the camera in for development, so we were really disappointed. It was a very memorable experience, though. I later gave the leather jacket away (autographs still inside and intact) and my Mum washed the t-shirt by mistake which erased the autographs. Despite this, nothing will erase the excitement of the gig and meeting The Clash face to face. Like, so much of that period, the memories are precious and I sometimes have to pinch myself to believe that they all actually really happened!


20. Where can we find your books on the internet?

My books are all available on amazon, except those out of print, which often demand high prices from sellers. Also, I regularly list on ebay. They can also be ordered from most good book shops and online.

The ideal source of purchase would be direct from myself via the website as all the ones sold on there are personally signed by myself and I always run very good value SPECIAL OFFERS on the books. The previous few books, still in print, are now also very low in numbers, but the latest one ‘Sawdust Caesars: original Mod Voices’ remains in stock indefinitely.