Motto: You can't teach people spirit, can you?! (Glenn Campling)
Tones on Tail was one of those early 80s bands that enter in the spotlight with revolutionary experimental music - upon me the best in the genre, by far - a mixture of electric and electronic sound and very unconventional lyrics, some of them surrealist some other with philosophical punt.
Glenn Campling, ex Tones on Tail member and actual member of Lone Station, in fact the only Tones on Tail member that still lives in England, has been my guide in Northampton, and he had the generosity to give me a long interview. The other two members of the band were: Daniel Ash, ex Bauhaus founder member and Kevin Haskins, also ex Bauhaus member, the drummer of the band.
Here it the official website of his actual band: lonestation.co.uk
Glenn drove me to Ashby domain, a castle with fabulous gardens, trees and fields, somewhere in Northamptonshire, a place where he and his friends and band mates used to go quite often in their first youth.
He warned me that I will meet an "old man", but in fact he looks, basically, unchanged. It's even a bit spooky to realize that someone can remain almost untouched by time in more than 30 years.
Glenn Campling: That's what we call an orangerie. It's a green house there, see?
Ilinca Bernea: I need to take some pictures, I adore the place.
G.C.: I thought you'd like this. What could be more English than this? And it makes you wonder why Danny wanted to get away from this. We used to came here with our motorbikes when we were students. We went to the lake, like I told you.
I.B.: Yes, it's hard to understand how comes he found the heart to quit all these. It's a life style choice, of course...
G.C.: There, where he is, he is kind of exposed to a lot of falsities. And he hates hypocrisy. It's strange imagining him standing it.
I asked Glenn which his favourite Tones on Tail track is, and he replied, with no hesitations, Lions.
G.C.: In Lions, I think, I'm playing almost all of the instruments cause there are many (laughs). We recorded that track in a tiny little studio in Wellingborrow which was Derek Tompkins', who died a couple of years ago. When we first started working with Derek he was close to retirement. I think he was knocking at the door of 60... His studio was a little 60 track-analogue recording studio that he has built himself. He also built the plate-echo, which is actually a series of tunnels in a box meant to give that kind of echo... so getting back to Lions, I'm playing keyboards, my tiny drum machine...
I.B.: Do you still have it?
G.C.: Well, my brothers sold my old equipment...
I.B.: Are you the elder brother?
G.C.: Yes, I'm the oldest.
I.B.: Now, I'm a little puzzled. How comes that such dark and angry, punchy, even sarcastic music, like the one of Bauhaus, could come from such a lovely, quite idyllic place?
G.C.: I wouldn't say sarcastic, but angry, yes, for sure. It was mostly an attitude in the 70s anyway. It all started with Sex Pistols. And then Johnny Lydon came up with Anger is an energy, with Public Image etc.
I.B.: Of course.
G.C.: This attitude came up with a strong sense of freedom too. We experimented a lot. We could use any instruments we wanted. Bauhaus never really embraced electronic music. If they have taken a synthesizer on the stage, Bauhaus fans would have said No, I'm afraid. But with Tones was much more relaxed. It was a sideline project, initially, where Danny could escape of any constriction. He did with TOT what he couldn't do with Bauhaus. I think the trouble really happened when Bauhaus finished: Danny was asked by the record company to stay with the company. They expected him to carry on, not as Bauhaus, but to continue on the same line, and he told me that he wanted to do Tones full time. I had reservations by then, cause I thought that it would be a big pressure put on both of us: it was meant to be a side project was supposed to turn into a main job, if you know what I mean... It's a big difference between the job that you've got to do and a hobby that you love. So, the real Tones on Tail died when we've got to do it full time, to some degree. In fact we took over the Bauhaus contract, which meant that we had to produce an album every nine months, and we had to fulfil that with a major UK tour and maybe a US tour as well, or even a European tour, on the release of each album. We did an album and two tours and that was the end of us, because the pressure made Danny more uptight and quite panicky in the studio and even in the tours. He would never admit that to anybody, but I know. Danny is his worst enemy sometimes. Sometimes, in business, he can make some very cold decisions. We literally stepped out of the plane, after a good, strong American tour, and he didn't seem to be pleased at all, he didn't want to speak to anybody, he just went out on his Harley and disappeared for 6 weeks. It was the same with Bauhaus. That's what he used to do. Go away on his bike for 6 weeks. After our successful tour in the US, when getting out of the plane, I saw him distant and heavy and he said: Just want to go home and I said: Fine, go, I'll see you in 6 weeks, but he said: 'I'm not sure'. 'What? What do you mean you're not sure?'. 'I'm not sure whether I wanna do this anymore'.
I.B.: He got bored?
G.C.: He got frustrated, sometimes, he got fed up some other times. He hates pressure.
I.B.: I think it's available for everybody. When you must do what you usually do by free choice. Freedom is essential in enjoying any type of activity. And, under the time's pressure, things become very hard to stand.
G.C.: Like I mentioned before, normally, with Danny, things follow the same pattern, so, I told Kevin, by then, let him chill for 6 weeks, but it didn't happen. He said: No, I don't want to do it anymore. You know, I've put in a lot of energy and a lot of my personality and of myself in that band, as well. I didn't mind because if you do something you really enjoy you don't notice the effort, you don't feel drained, it's part of you. It was devastating. There is where I associate with Pete (Peter Murphy - the vocal of Bauhaus), Pete being sidelined and left behind at the end of Bauhaus days. He was sick and the other three decided to break off, and I felt the history repeated itself in the case of Tones on Tails. Danny and Kev decided to finish, I've found out later that Kevin knew that Danny planned to finish with Tones on Tail at the end of the American tour. I think Kevin would do whatever Danny tells him, if you know what I mean. And then, the next thing I heard, about three months later, was that they started together Love and Rockets. Not only I've lost a friend, because me and Danny were very very close from day one, but I also really felt as though I've been flown out of my own band. Initially there were just the two of us, me and him and we decided later to take Kevin on board, as well. We were fed up with drum machines... (laughs). But, otherwise, drum machines don't answer back, I love them. They don't tell you: I can't do that! (laughs). So, you know, I love drum machines more than drummers. Danny wanted to work with Dave (David Haskins, Kevin's brother), I think, because he went through, I think, a kind of writer's cramp, a musical cramp, he was losing confidence in his own abilities. Of course, he would never, in a million years, admit this. When I look back, and I remember key things, I can put the jigs all together. I think he is going through a similar crisis now. He is saying he wants to get Tones back together. That's strange, this is the scatty side of Danny because he is the guy who destroyed it and now he realizes that he wished he never murdered that thing, but he cannot bring it back. I could say: Yes, let's do it, and put all my energy into that again, that would make me go to the States, and things could follow the same path again. I cannot deal with Danny's unpredictability. If I had a girlfriend like that I would finish with her straight away. I would never have that guarantee that things will go on differently this time. Really, he should of discuss things with me, he should of say: Glenn, there's a problem and we can fix it. But Danny shut the door and that's all. Finish. When someone refuses any dialog and shuts all the blinds, this proves a weakness to me. He has this attitude: I reserve the right to be wrong, and doesn't look back, no matter what. One cannot deal with this. I have to mention that he also has a very noble side. Danny is a paradoxical personality: he can be extremely generous, as well. The guys from the Baggers (the Baggers Banquet is the name of the Record Company that produced the Bauhaus and Tones on Tail's albums) wanted to have a contract with him and he to tell me and Kevin what to do, which didn't happen. Danny didn't want that. So we all had our own contract. And I'll take off my hat out to him for that. We all had the same status in the band and full artistic freedom and that's the only way to get your best as a band, to squeeze the entire orange. I know Danny inside, he is not very different from me, we value pretty much the same things, he has got the same sense of humour. Every time he sees me he will always say to friends: look, this is Glenn, this is typical English sense of humour, I missed it so much! We went through a lot of hardship those 9 months with no money coming, no regular money or anything, you know.
I.B.: How much money did you earn on a tour?
G.C.: Enough not to get back broken... You earn money when you are Rolling Stones. We just manage not to lose any money which is great.
I.B.: I'd like to talk about Lonestation, Glenn. When the idea took shape for the first time?
G.C.: This is really an extension of the attitude and of the musical approach we experienced with Tones on Tail. I'm telling you, I couldn't play or make music for years because of my health condition. I endured a huge amount of pain, physical pain, and this is one of the biggest creativity killers. But now I'm fine, there's no walking stick, see? I feel so alive now. Ever since the pain went away, I came back to life, I've started doing music again, I've turned my garage into recording studio, just the way I wanted it. It's like back studios in a way, like Derek Tompkins' studio. Just seems me and nobody else. It's a very selfish studio! Mark, my band colleague, is a massive Bauhaus fan. Ha always has been. He is a little bit younger than me. His voice definitely reminds me Peter Murphy's, because Pete was his model I think. Mark is doing an incredible amount of his own material. He is, actually, a college lecturer. He lives in Lester, 30 miles away. And he was doing this for years and, at one moment, he approached me at one of Peter's gigs, few years ago.
I.B.: Peter is still on stage after so many years, he is amazing, isn't he?
G.C.: Anytime when I go to his gigs, he introduces me, he says: I'm pleased to see Glenn, he doesn't even know I'm there, he knows I'm coming. I've been at a gig in Nottingham - last time he did the Bauhaus music there - and the only place where I could stand was somewhere on some stairs and it was a tiny light bulb over me and he found me and he stopped and stated to the crowd: I'd like to introduce Glenn Campling. I love Pete.
I.B.: I'm passionate about contemporary dance, you know, and I appreciate his wife's choreographies. Hurihan, his daughter, is a fabulous dancer too...
G.C.: His wife inspired him to become such a good dancer too.
I.B.: Where do they live now, in Istanbul still?
G.C.: In Istanbul. Yes. You know, when Pete is demonized, I don't like it because he is a very good and generous man. When I went through my operation, a major operation I mean, on that day he sent me texts and emails and he was very supportive, I didn't receive such encouraging messages from Danny, Kevin or David. I didn't tell him I was going to the hospital. Andy, my friend, must have told him, because he is in touch with all of us, he is like the meeting point for all of us.
I.B.: I've read David's book and I was reluctant to his attempt of blaming Peter for the dissolution of Bauhaus.
G.C.: I cannot say anything because I haven't read the book. Sometimes I think we all are like kids with huge egos, you know...
I.B.: Going back to the art school. You have been in the same class with Danny or with the others?
G.C.: Me and Danny, initially, we did the first year foundation course, we were graphic students, and after a year - this is typical for Danny - he changed his mind: he didn't want to do graphics anymore. We can see the pattern there, OK? (laughs) so he wanted to do industrial design. So he attended one year course, a whole year on graphics, and then he said: No, I don't want to do that, I want something else.
I.B.: Tell me, Glenn, are you still doing graphics?
G.C.: Yes. But not enjoying it. I do mostly computer graphics because I have to.
I.B.: This is what you do for a living?
G.C.: Yes. For more than 25 years now, I'm living doing computer graphics.
I.B.: I'd like to see!
G.C.: No, you won't, trust me! (laughs). It's commercial graphics, you won't enjoy. It's disgusting and horrible, it is artistic prostitution, OK?
I.B.: Well, this is what I do for a living too. And now I'm looking for work, here, in England. Can you find me a place in the same brothel, please?
G.C.: (laughs): Let's see... Maybe.
We continued our walk through the park of the Castle.
G.C.: There is a fantastic graveyard over there, unfortunately the public's access has been restricted. I am currently trying to do something more worthy: to write my book, to make light on things... and I'm writing it from a very humorous perspective.
We arrived next to a huge amazing tree.
G.C.: If I was 20 years younger I would have climbed in that tree. This is what I used to do when I was young.
I.B.: What about your daughter? You told me she attended the music university in Brighton.
G.C.: Yes. She discovered that her father was in a band she was about 8. She was fascinated.
I.B.: I can see.
G.C.: She said: daddy I wanna play bass. So, I kind of thought: well, it's going to be an adventure. Maybe one year and it's all finished. But I was wrong. When she was 13 she still wanted to play bass. And I said: right, you can take my old guitar, which has only four strings on it, you know, and she took it at school. It's a heavy bass, very heavy, because it has a metal neck, it's made on solid wood, and I said: if you're still playing it in one year I'll buy you your first bass. And she did it! It took it at school every week.
I.B.: You've been teaching in the art school for how long (the art school is a college in Northampton)?
G.C.: For four, five years. It was pretty good. But I've found the students boring. They weren't as interesting as we used to be. They didn't even have a decent sense of rebellion.
I.B.: This is exactly what I think about the new generation and about most part of my students too: they are scandalously meek and obedient!
G.C.: (laughs): That's what I found! YES. Exactly. They are the pleaser type of student. Not showing real shining creativity. Nothing remarkable.
I.B.: They seem to need to be taught what to do, this is what I've also noticed.
G.C.: You can't teach people spirit, can you?!
I.B.: That's true. It's a sense of freedom one needs in order to be artist. If you don't have this sense nobody else can give it to you. To me art is entirely a matter of personal freedom.
He fetched me to the Art School. He showed me their classrooms and the festivities hall. I've seen, exposed under glass, some fancy and quite artistic costumes and shoes and he told me about the traditional leather industry from Northampton.
G.C.: It's so sad! The school is desert at five a clock...We stayed until late evening, even during the night, making sketches or music, experimenting, talking, reading. These new generations seem to be simply diploma hunters. We pushed the limits, we were curious, creative, we defied the norms. See this roof? We climbed on it when we were students.
At the end of our visit at the Art School, Glenn posed for me, sitting on the same step where he sat 40 years ago, when he was a first year student.
We went to one of his favorite pubs afterwards.
I.B.: This music is not quite appealing.
G.C.: It's old music. I'm trying to remember the name of the band. Yes! It's Orange Juice. It's from early 90s. What's this song?
I.B.: Listen. Cliff Richards. This is horrible.
G.C.: Really horrible.
I.B.: Let's get back to Tones on Tail. Tell me the story of Copper.
G.C.: It was during that time, well... the early days when Danny was doing his solo project and he said to me - do you want to come to put the bass on this or he asked me if he can borrow my drum machine - it was very casual, and we were coming back from a gig and I was driving a tour van, with all the band's equipment. There were just the two of us in the cab, going back to Northampton, and... well, I've told you we didn't drink, but we had a couple of little drinks, insignificant, we weren't saint, you know, so I was driving and I said: I hope we won't bump into any policeman, so we were both in a jolly mood, and I always used to carry with me a ghetto blaster with type machine and he was playing that track that he was working at and, at a sudden, I've started shouting: copper, and he was recording me, I didn't know he was doing it, so this was my first contribution to Tones on Tail.
I.B.: It's very entertaining and irradiates such good mood! Tell me about Slender Fungus.
G.C.: It was a guy that came up with the track, it was just vocals, right, what was his name? Bobby somebody and I said to Danny: let's do something strange with only vocals and no instruments at all, just vocals, and he embraced the idea and then he started doing the melodic line, figured some lyrics and wrote them down. And I said: let's do it as a triple harmony and (laughs), in the studio, he was trying to get the harmony, but was not so simple, he couldn't hit it, so I was playing the key and I said: look, switch off what you just did, focus on the first vocal and, then, I played it on the keyboard: here is where you should be, and he tuned to the keyboard and then we just erased the keyboard and we went on like this with the other harmonies.
I.B.: My very favorite Tones on Tail track is Real Life.
G.C.: The story beyond that was... let me explain. The first part of that track is the actual track but going backwards, we did this because the original track was only about three minutes and we thought it is lacking something, this is probably one of the few things that me and Kevin agreed on, but Danny said: no, no, no, it's great such way it is, so, eventually this was the solution to please us all. When we arrived in the studio, Danny get really pissed off with the idea, he said: this is crap, but me and Kevin perseverated and we came up with so many different mixes between the track and its backwards sound that, eventually, he agreed.
I.B.: Who wrote the lyrics?
G.C.: Danny always did the lyrics.
I.B.: What about Happiness?
G.C.: That was a tribute to The Cure!
I.B.: I would have never guessed that!
Those ones close to me know that, once in a while, I draw with ink on my hand some Tones on Tail ideograms and that I'm having thoughts of getting a permanent tattoo. When I told this to Glenn he was not quite prone to encourage me: "it doesn't worth spoiling such beautiful skin", he said. Is this a rock-star attitude or what? None of the guys from TOT has played the superstar, they acted like true artists and they had a modesty that inspired me for years.
This is what I've got from Glenn:
I.B.: At the end of our interview I'd like to ask you a series of flash questions.
G.C.: Yes. Go ahead.
I.B.: If you had the chance to use the Time Machine when and where would you chose to live?
G.C.: Here, right now.
I.B.: Have you ever had premonitions?
G.C.: Yes. Once.
I.B.: Did you ever feel the need to go back in time to change things?
I.B.: Who the artist you consider to have influenced you the most are?
G.C.: Salvador Dali and also Brian Eno.
I.B.: What famous painting would you love to keep in your living room?
G.C.: The Metamorphosis of Narcissus by Dali or anything by Bridget Riley.
I.B.: What do you appreciate to be your best quality?
G.C.: Perseverance in the face of adversity.
I.B.: And you most embarrassing feature?
G.C.: Good one, that's got me thinking, There's a sad looking rose at the end of my garden. Does that count?
I.B.: What do you hate the most?
I.B.: What is happiness to you?
G.C.: Being alive, friendship and loving the universe that I am part of.
I.B.: Can you control your creative drive or is it dependent on an unpredictable inner state?
G.C.: Your so tough. Yes and yes.
I.B.: Let's play a game. Pick up, please, a musical piece that you'd fine to be the most suitable for a sad day.
G.C.: Music Matters, Faithless.
I.B.: An evening out with someone that you're in love.
G.C.: Exchange, Massive Attack.
I.B.: Wow. I adore that track. I fact I am mad about M.A. OK. Let's go further: A happy event.
G.C.: Spider & I, Brian Eno. Bulletproof, Pop Will Eat Itself
I.B.: A long journey.
G.C.: All of The Orb or Killing Joke.
I.B.: A broken heart moment.
G.C.: What a Day by Throbbing Gristle or Killing by Olive or Public Image by Public Image Ltd, but I haven't taken that one too seriously.
At the end I will confess that I've made a video for one of my favorite Tones on Tail tracks. It's a video-collage, combining different media: paintings, photographs, excerpts of film shots, etc. Natalia Sitcai filmed me dancing and writing.