fuzz townshend interview
(28th May, 1999)

Fuzz (Robert to his Mom) Townshend made his entrance into my life when he joined Black Country boot-boys Pop Will Eat Itself in 1992 for their "The looks or the lifestyle" album, bringing live drums to the band for the first time since debut LP, "Box frenzy." Before the Poppies he'd been in a huge number of bands including General Public, Pig Bros and Kirk's Equator with whom he recorded an hilarious guitar/techno pop single "On the run from a Mormon death squad." With the demise of PWEI he became part of the Bentley Rhythm Ace live set-up and also released his own white label 12", "Hello darlin," a cheeky Sid James chuckle with beats, for Norwich indie Backs which landed him a full-scale deal with Echo. Several singles, and another label, down the line and having just finished his album, "Far in," a characteristically perky set of infectious tunes that wield a pop sword without losing dancefloor cred, he was gagging to spill the beans by phone from his home studio.

So how come your biog doesn't mention the fact that you drummed on a song with possibly the best title in the world, "On the run from a Mormon death squad"?

Blimey! someone's been doing their homework haven't they? Well...it was a good thing, but I'm still waiting for the Mormons to knock on my door!

That was Kirk's Equator and Bobby Bird from the band helped you engineer the new album?

Yeah, it's always better to have another pair of ears and I was getting used to a lot of new equipment as well. It's easy to get yourself lost in that situation, but now I just do it all on my own. He records on his own as the Higher Intelligence Agency who you might know from Poppies remixes.

Talking of the Poppies, were you a fan when you joined the band?

Yeah I was---but I've never been the kind of fan that goes out and buys all the records that somebody's done. Just because I liked one record, I don't assume that I'm going to like the next one. The thing with the Poppies was that I had great respect for them just doing what they wanted to do, making albums their own way. I remember when "Dance of the mad" was released and I really wanted it to do well, I wanted to have faith in the record-buying public and the music industry, a final acknowledgement that this band were really something...but it just struggled into the charts at number 37 in the end.

How did they hear about you?

I'd been around the Midlands playing in bands for a long time---I started very young, I was the boy drummer! So they knew of me. Graham knew me most, but it was Richard that asked me to join. I was in this dull pub, just getting a quick pint and Rich came up and said "do you fancy being in our group?" and I said "yeah" so he went "alright, we'll give you a call in a couple of months" and then we didn't say another word to each other apart from when we passed in the corridor.

When you went into the band, did you have to learn to play what had already been programmed?

No, I was given a free hand but I liked a lot of the way things were done so I tried not to go in with great big clod-hoppers and change things round, y'know like "HELLO EVERYBODY, I'VE ARRIVED!!" When we were doing the older songs I just did my own interpretations really. It made life a lot easier for me and made it more of a groovy kind of thing.

I thought you added an edge to the live stuff, much like with Bentleys now

I'd always agree with that, that's why I have a live drummer on my records. It's the energy and dynamic bits and if you actually see somebody knocking their pipe out doing the beats it's more exciting than just hearing them. You can hear 'em anywhere!

Did you start playing other instruments when you joined the Poppies?

Well, I'd been programming for a while on a little Atari computer but I can't play guitar or piano or anything, I have to keep playing something over and over before I get it right. I'm really not well versed in any instrument apart from drums and percussion.

Were you doing any recording on your own? Any releases?

Oh yeah, I was recording but none of it ever saw the light of day because I never played it to anybody. It was just something I did for pleasure, so I've still got all of that.

I've heard that you were sacked from the Poppies, which surprised me. Is that right?

Technically, yes. If I hadn't been sacked then when I came to sign on they'd have said "well you weren't sacked, were you?" We're all still mates though, and we still see each other---well, not Clint cos he's in the States now.

What's your role in Bentleys?

I do some recording but my main purpose is live. What they do is get me in and I'll play for half an hour or something then they'll use the bits of drumming they want. It's not like studios in the old days where you went in knowing how a song would sound cos now you can just keep going with something until you're happy with it. I think PWEI did it quite well in that respect. There was a lot of sitting at home cobbling stuff together, then we'd go round someone's house and cobble it together a bit more and then the end bit was still the same---we had a budget for the studio and a cut-off point.

One of the things I liked about the Poppies was that you got the impression they just sat around with a few cans until the album was due then leapt up and shouted "Fuck! we've got to get an album together by next week!"

Ha ha ha! That's about right actually. Ha ha! No, that was the process. Not everybody found it easy to write tunes so it was a lot of work for some people and less for others.

When I've seen you play live with Bentleys it looks like you're the only one doing any work, is that right?

Ha ha! I've never been one to be bitter, it makes the time pass slower! The drums are important because they're the first thing that people dance to aren't they?

So do your own songs always start with the drums?

No, not always. One song might not have a start at all, it might be a bit of another song that sounds great on its own. But on days when I've got no ideas I might say to myself "I'll set the drums up in the kitchen today and see what it sounds like" then play for a couple of minutes and noodle around with it in the studio.

Did anything in particular on the album come about like that?

On my album? Bloody everything! Ha ha ha! It's the sound of my environment, the people who came round on the day and happened to play something or say something or do something...

Is that how "Get yourself" ended up with the nonsense lyrics?

Michael Valentine West turned up one Sunday tea time and he'd had a few glasses of wine at some arts opening or something. I said "you sing this" and he slurred his way through it.

The bit I like best is where you rhyme Princess Diana and frying pan

The words, I have to hold my hand up, I'm afraid I wrote those. But the delivery is a big part of that song. But yeah, rhyming Princess Diana and frying pan...

I bought the 12" of "Hello darlin" when it came out on Fidelity Lo...

...Fidelity Lo was just a label put together with Backs in Norwich cos I knew Derek there from the past. They liked "Hello darlin" and we developed the label to put it out and perhaps follow it with something else, but that's all we've done to date. Then Echo came along and gave me an advance to upgrade my studio and record an album. So I went with them and now I'm with Fruition.

Yeah, what happened to Echo?

Echo had a change of policy and everybody was out, like myself and Marc Almond. When I joined they were shaping it into a dance label but then a new boss was sent in by the holding company and he was more of a traditionalist, into his singer-songwriters.

The production on your singles has been very retro. Is that a product of intention, limited technology, recording in the kitchen, or what?

It's intentional, but all of the above really. I've played in lots of bands over the years and it's always been the case that we've been working towards getting the perfect recording and they all end up as too much chocolate and not enough biscuit, if you know what I mean? Whereas during the time that you're rehearsing you capture the whole spirit and get the greatest take you'll ever have on that song. When I'm producing, I don't record all the drums separately, I don't do take after take, the first one that's roughly right I use---it's more vibrant that way, there's no jaded edges. I think retro is right, I just boost the bottom end a little and I don't try to make records that sound like they were made in some big studio. I just record my own environment.

Have you got a snappy label for that?

Erm...self sound. Everybody has a sound associated with them, and everybody hears things differently.

The current single is "Bus" and you used to be a bus mechanic?

I used to work at the Dudley bus depot when it was still standing, from 1985-6 and again 1989-91.

Really? When I lived at home I used to catch the 140 from Blackheath to Dudley all the time.

Funnily enough, the 140 was our short test route from Dudley. I used to put "No" on the front of the bus and charge up and down the 140 route whenever I'd repaired the brakes or tinkered with the engine. I just used to put my foot on the accelerator from Dudley, take it off for the island at the bottom of the hill at Blackheath then put it back on to get speed up for the hill, over the top and tank it back to Dudley. People used to put their hands out but I'd just speed by. It's the only way to make bus driving appealing!

Lastly, as drummer-turned-front man, do you see yourself as the new Phil Collins?

Ha ha ha ha!! Yeah! Limahl, Phil Collins and the bloke out of Aha all rolled into one!

You can contact Fuzz on email at fuzz@chapter22.demon.co.uk

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