|- Simon Toulson-Clarke : The Interview -
Interviewed on Tuesday 14th of January 2003,
Simon Toulson-Clarke answers the questions you put to him,
and gives a better insight into the history of the band Red Box.
L.S. - Were you in a band before Red Box?
S.T.C. - Yes, I was in a school band which I formed with Paddy Talbot, who is one of the
credits on Circle + Square and who remains a friend to this day. We were 13, our band
mostly played covers but also early stuff which I was writing and at that time I had been
playing the guitar for just over a year. We covered stuff from 'Led Zeppelin', 'Deep
Purple', well we murdered it really! When I left school, I moved and formed a band in
Middlesbrough where I stayed for a year. That band was a sort of 'New York Dolls', fast
kind of rock/pop affair, looking back it was really quite good. I then moved to London in
about 1977 and tried to form a band there for about a year with Paddy, who infact made
it through to the first line-up of Red Box. It was at PCL (Polytechnics Central London)
where I met Julian.
L.S. - How did you decide on the name Red Box?
S.T.C. - We struggled to find a name for ages, it's one of the hardest things to do. I
looked for a while at lots of different names and for a year on and off we thought of a lot
of titles. Julian and I shared a flat where we kept a list of possible names, and in the end
we ended up with about 100 different ideas! Red Box however was never on that list. One
day Paddy and our drummer which was a guy from college called Martin came round the
flat and were shouting out probable band names. I was getting a lot of stick 'cos I
wouldn't agree to any of the names, and Paddy + Martin said 'Well if I was to say The
Beatles you'd think that was a fuckin' terible name, or The Doors', which of course are
great band names. After that I realised that we should just choose a name. We had this
box which we used to keep about 15 mics in, which was covered in peeling red paint, it
was actually 'Slade's', they played at college and left it behind, so Martin goes 'Red Box',
and everyone pauses and says actually that's pretty good, except for me! I was thinking
well what does it actually mean?. Later on my opinion changed and I thought red is good
perhaps because some of our sentiments, and maybe politically at that stage being
students and being student activists you know, perhaps it's not a bad word to have in
the title. Also red box meant something to me because I was reading at the time various
novels about North American Indians, where their sign for a man is a circle, and when they
started to encounter the whites, there sign for a white man was a square. So I thought in
someways a Red Square, you know?
L.S - Who were your musical heroes as you were growing up, and was there any
one particular artist that influenced the distinctive Red Box sound?
S.T.C. - The first record I heard was when I was about 4 or 5, and my mum brought it
'cos I loved it so much, Elvis Presley's Return To Sender, dunno why I loved it but i've
often written in that time signature. Then when I was about 13 or 14 I got into, for the
first time in my life a serious fanatical way, Marc Bolan. I have a sister that is 5 years older
then me and she played me Cream, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, all of which I became
huge fans of. Cat Stevens was played a lot when I was learning guitar, as was Dylan, The
Beatles and The Stones, we were the kind of family that had the radio on all the time in
the car, singing to it. After that came Buffy Sainte-Marie, which was a huge thing for me.
The first record I brought by her was already a best of, so it was clear there were a lot of
records out there that I never heard of, which was pretty exciting.
L.S. - What made you cover Buffy's 'Saskatchewan'?
S.T.C. - As I did with anything I got which was guitar based, I would work it out on my
guitar, and i'm one of those people that when I work something out, it never sounds like
the original, for some reason it just doesn't. It's been a good thing for me and a bad
thing. It makes it quite hard to produce other people 'cos they just end up sounding like
me and i'm not really good at putting a different hat on. So when I managed to play
Saskatchewan, it sounded like she was playing it, which was pretty amazing to me as I
was about 15 and not that competent. I always play Saskatchewan, you know on the
beach with friends and stuff. I really didn't get what I wanted with our album version, her
version had this really extraordinary feel to it. I think where the drums kick in, in our
version, it just wasn't quite right, it sort of blew it away into somewhere else. I actually
think I should re-record that as an acoustic version.
L.S. - How many music videos did Red Box make?
S.T.C. - Heart of the Sun, For America, Chenko, Lean on Me, a cheap Saskatchewan video
which was recorded in Hyde Park and Train. When we made the Lean on Me video there
were a few arguements over how we should do it and how it was going to come across.
The idea for it was hatched between me and Julian and our then A+R guy called John who
was a really nice guy, who shortly afterwards got sacked over this album in fact. Thinking
about it they sacked Phill Brown and David Motion too. Anyway not straying to far from
the question, we had to go to the head of A+R to put forward our ideas for the video.
Basically they didn't like our ideas and I think that was the first real conflict we had, the
first of many. The head of Warner (RD) thought we were a pretty arrogant bunch of
people and we found out he was undermining me and undermining the group to an
astonishing degree. Warner hated the fact that we were making world music. He (RD)
made a very famous speach, well famous to us about how world music would never catch
on. He would say things like 'You shouldn't have any backing singers in Chenko'. It's a
fucking chant you know!! I'm sure he was trying to do the best for us but we just didn't
connect, intellectually or musically. He thought my covering Buffy was crazy and would
damage us in America, and For America in fact was what I wrote in response to
conversations with RD about why Red Box wouldn't appeal to America. Anyway so we
went with Lean on Me, I don't really think they knew what it was about, so we explained
to them it was about communication, and the lack of it. At the time videos around that
era were generally very very busy, you know there were lots of shots, beams of light,
smoke and stuff in the eighties, so we went into this guys office (RD) and incidentally he
said it will be a big hit, it's a great song, we told him that there would be just one shot in
the whole video and that everything would then come into the frame, we will have different
people from all over the world and have a representation of the world as a roundabout,
and Julian's 'gonna be waving some flags around. 'What the fuck?' was his first response!
'It's complete art school shit, get out and come back with a propper idea'. He completely
freaked! So we went downstairs, John's nearly in tears, we walk down in complete silence
then Julian turns round and says 'Well we really showed him'. All of us just started
laughing, that was what Red Box survived on I think. We always had a sense of humour
and we were so open with everyone it's crazy to think that we were classed as arrogant.
We got our own way in the end and the video was a contender for the video of the year,
so you know. The relationship with RD really did kill the band in the end, although it was in
L.S. - Motive is such a great album, did it get any promotion when it was released?
S.T.C. - Nope, non what-so-ever. After the Circle & the Square I said i'm not making
anymore records 'cos you know it was just making me ill, i'm not going to do it. So I went
off to live on a boat in Italy, didn't play or write anything for a year. After that time Max,
who was the guy underneath RD sent me a telegram saying give me a ring, thought we
were mates, you know all that, so I gave him a ring and he said he's got something to talk
to me about. So I went to meet him in London and he told me that Warners were giving
him his own label, East West, everyone who didn' get along with RD is coming with me,
Chris Rea, Mick Hucknell, most of the English signings. So I thought OK, i'll see how it
goes, so I came back and formed the second line up for Motive. I was told that if I wanted
to have Warners backing, Red Box would have to produce a non-trible album, which was
crazy 'cos Warners signed us as a band that would play around with chants, drumbeats
and ethnic drums and stuff. Shorlty afterwards Warners released 'Graceland', which is an
outstanding record, but I can't believe they couldn't see some similarity in the ethos.
Anyway, Train was looking like it it was going to be our biggest hit, we were on Juke Box
Jury and it was by far and away the best recieved track on the programme. It was getting
fantastic reviews but at the last hurdle it was pulled from the shelves. Hugely
L.S. - What ever happened to Julian?
S.T.C. - OK. Basically when you make a single or an album for example, well for a first
deal anyway, the cut from that single would be anything from 12 to 14 percent, but you
wouldn't get that 12 or 14 percent until all the money that the record company had spent
on it, promoting the group and recording the group and what have you, which, in our
case at the end of the Circle & the Square was about Â£250,000, and, they don't pay you
your royalties until you have paid that back, but here's the catch, you don't pay it back
out of the profits of the record, you pay it out of your 12 percent. Not until your 12
percent has paid them, you don't receive any money. I was receiving money 'cos I wrote
the songs, like everytime they are played on the radio, I would get some royalties, as I
still do. But Julian is not really a writer, I think what he really was, was an A+R man within
the band. He could play several instuments to a sort of OK level, and he wrote the
occasional song which didn't make it onto record, but you know he said himself 'Look I
could stay in Red Box, we'll go away and write the next album, come back and you would
have wrote 15 songs and I would have written 2, and even if my 2 are on it, i'm not going
to make any money out of it'. What he really wanted to be was a producer, and he said 'I
think i'm just going to have to try and become a producer, go for it now 'cos my cash
earnings would be high because of Red Box'. We were mates and I could understand
why, you know, he wasn't enjoying it, although Julian 100 percent agreed with everything
we were arguing for, I think it was harder for him to withstand all that because, you
know, it was my passion in a way. Julian then worked for EMI UK for about 5 or 6 years,
actually he became the head of A+R there so he was obviously really good at it. Now has
his own record label. I still see him now and again, and we remain friends. Like I say he
was a good A+R man within the band, which was a bloody good job 'cos we didn't have
any at Warners, so hats of to Ju really. He is Sniffy Dog. You know the credit on Motive,
Sniffy we love you? That's him.
L.S. - Who is Max, for whom Soldier of Love is dedicated?
S.T.C. - Max is the guy that I told you about, who called me up when I was in Italy after
the Circle & the Square. He is the guy that launched East West Records. One drunken
night he made this heart felt speech to me about how he should of stuck up for me more
over all the fuss between RD and the Circle & the Square, pretty emotional. Great guy.
L.S. - What TV programmes did you appear on?
S.T.C. - As I said earlier we were on Juke Box Jury with Train, which was a terrifying
experience really 'cos as we were guests it was more nervy if the panal didn't like the
song. Lucky for us though we swept across the board with a hit. It was quite fun really,
Jools Holland had this train going round a track as an introduction to our song, which was
quite nice as no other bands had anything like that, I don't think anyway. We were also
regulars on Top of the Pops during the Lean on Me single. We were everywhere really,
Wogan, Wac-A-Day you name it, we were on it.
L.S. - Do you own the rights to both Red Box albums, if so any chance of a
S.T.C. - Interesting question. Well I own the songs, but I don't own those recordings
because the record company paid for them, they own them. Funnily enough I actually
have got the masters of the Circle & the Square, not Motive, in the cupboard under the
loo, the reason being is that they are under no pipes, so if anything goes wrong, they
won't get damaged. All the 2" 24 track masters are in my house now, so at any point I
could go back and re-do this album. It's something I think of, basically I think about half
of it I could get a lot better, so I might consider doing that. Like I said though, my hands
are tied as the other recordings were funded by Warners.
L.S. - What is this new project you are working on called Plenty?
S.T.C. - Well, it's three friends, me and two others, and it has arisen through just
jamming really. The three of us just used to play together, nothing serious you know, but
now I think it really has become something all three of us can be proud of. Don't want to
say too much really at this point, but it's an album of love songs.
L.S. - You have hinted at a possible third Red Box album, how much of a reality is
S.T.C. - It is certainly a reality. I mean I would like to. I think now with my own studio and
no suits around, I can do such a project justice. I also have some songs I wrote during
the time of Red Box that I kept to myself, because I thought there were special, I didn't
trust the whole music scene enough to bring them to light, but it is a concrete possibility.
|Massive thanks to Simon for suggesting + giving the OK to go along with the interview,
and for letting me stay in his house until some strange hour,
when he should have been with his partner!
|Oh yea, and the map to get back home, it was spot on!
|All text/pictures property of:
Lewis Slade / Simon Toulson-Clarke