(added July 2008)
INTERVIEW WITH GAZ MARSON
( FRONT MAN OF THE SURF RATS )
made by Craig Brackenridge
"One of the most criminally underrated British
Psychobilly bands of the 1980ís has to be the Birmingham trio The
Surf Rats. The band featured the talents of the Marson
brothers, Gaz (vocals, guitar & chief
and Stan (bass & vocals), who were joined by drummer Ian
ĎCartyí Melville at their peak. They left behind two
classic albums on Lost Moment Records, ĎTroubleí(1988)
& ĎStraight Between The Eyesí(1989), both
of which are long deleted and even the CD featuring both albums
on one disc is relatively hard to find. For some reason the band
found it hard to establish a greater presence on the Psychobilly
scene and eventually drifted into other projects before
re-emerging in America some years later as The Love
Cowboys. Undoubtedly, The Surf Rats should
have enjoyed much more popularity than they actually received,
something which I imagine anyone who has heard their records
will agree with. After a long period of time sniffing around, I
finally managed to track down Surf Ratsí
frontman Gaz Marson who is now living back in the UK.
When did you first become aware that Psychobilly was evolving out of the Rockabilly scene?
Personally, I have always been into Rockabilly and other American roots music and always preferred a heavier, more driven sound. I was also big into B movies and comic book horror and Sci/Fi. And this was all from about the time I was 6 or 7 years old. I became a big AC/DC fan also and thought that if I could combine Eddie Cochran with AC/DC then it would be a good sound. I was playing around with this sound in my band when The Meteors and The Stray Cats appeared on the scene and that was it. So probably around 1979.
Where exactly were The Surf Rats based and what do you remember of the Rockabilly / Psychobilly scene in the Midlands in the early 1980ís?
The Surf Rats were based in Birmingham and the local scene was pretty lively at the time. Got out to see The Stray Cats in small local clubs in and around the Midlands in 1980. Went to see a lot of the first wave of Psychobilly bands too. Eventually we started to get a lot of the support slots for bands like The Meteors, Restless, Torment, Frenzy, Batmobile etc. This would be mid to late 1980's. I also remember a lot of bitchin' and stuff going on between us and the other local bands all after the same gig. Youth, eh?
Did you and Stan start The Surf Rats around 1981?
I was playing in a band with some school friends doing AC/DC versions of Chuck Berry songs. Nearly all my contemporaries were metal heads and wanted to form rock bands, so I was slipping in souped up Eddie Cochran and Chuck Berry stuff. It all sounded heavy metal to them and they were none the wiser, they all thought trad Rockabilly and Rock n Roll was a bit namby-pamby. I managed to persuade my brother Stan to take up double bass and we managed to steal one the last day of term before the summer hols at school from the schoolís music room. It was just sitting there gathering dust, so, we decided to have it and just walked out with it. Bad boys. This would be around 1981. Apologies to my old school, if you are still looking for it.
Were you in any bands prior to The Surf Rats?
Nothing really steady, just the one I mentioned above which was never really a band as such. Different people used to turn up as and when someone decided to learn to play an instrument. I never sang at the time. Not until I decided to form a band with my brother because I was writing loads of songs at the time. Nearly all Psycho stuff or AC/DC type things.
You mentioned that you initially had Ďmore drummers than Spinal Tapí, when did you find Carty who appears on both albums? Was he the last Surf Rats drummer?
Carty lived next door to us. We knew he was a drummer and he was playing in a punk band at the time and also a rock band. We didnít really know him that well though as he was a couple of years older than me and hung around with all these scary punk types. He was rehearsing with one of these bands in a garage across the road one summer. The garage door was open and I sat outside listening. I asked if he would be interested in playing with us and he agreed to try out. Consequently he stayed with us and the other bands he played with fell by the wayside. He stayed with the band and its various name changes right up until 2002.
Were you happy with the recording sessions for both albums?
I think we were just excited and pleased that we had a deal and that somebody else was footing the bill. We had one day for the first album and I think three days for the second. Thatís to record and mix. I wish we had more time. I think it was fun at the time but you always come away from those things either knowing that you could have done it so much better or more often than not thinking that the guy behind the desk didnít have a clue about what you were after.
Are there any demos or unreleased material in the Surf Rats archive?
There are about 5 tracks that we recorded as demos before we got our deal that have never been released.
Do you feel that Lost Momentís poor promotion of the albums stopped you establishing yourselves in Europe where the Psychobilly scene was far healthier than the UK?
Could you tell me a bit about the transition from The Surf Rats to Custom Built and finally The Love Cowboys?
The Surf Rats name went because the Psycho scene had kind of died on its arse here so I decided to go back to playing a more souped up trad sound and changed the name to Custom Built to reflect the change in direction. We stayed well away from the rockin scene because they hated us and we hated them. While they were all out posing and comparing the Big E on their Levis and moaning about the fact that 'Buddy Holly never played it like that', we just wanted to have fun playing fun music. And we worked a lot. Playing rock venues, blues venues, touring all around the U.K. But we still couldnít crack Europe. Couldnít even get in the door. My brother eventually left the band in about '92 or '93. I took about a year off from music and was then approached by a bass player who had recently left a band. I said ok, got Carty on board and came up with the name 'The Love Cowboys From Hell'. We played covers only, but we played em loud and fast. We did things like 'Kiss' by Prince and other mad stuff. All very loud and very fast. Again we worked a lot. All over the U.K. 6 or 7 nights a week, but still no Europe. We started to work a lot on the tattoo scene, playing conventions and festivals and we were invited to play a tattoo show in Belfast where we stayed at the organisers house. Also staying there was a tattooist that had come over from the States. He was also a musician and he loved my band. At the end of the tattoo show he said if I ever wanted to do a couple of gigs in the States then all I have to do is give him a call. Which of course, I did. He said we could crash at his house and use his van to carry gear and stuff. We thought that he would come back with about 5 or 6 gigs over a 2 week period. We ended up going for 3 months and playing 3 or 4 nights a week, including playing at the Sturgis bike week.
During this trip I had kind of gotten sick of the bass player as I didnít really rate him as a player and I also wanted to get back to playing my own stuff. I had made good contact with a couple of people who had approached me regarding managing the band. This was the summer of 1997. I landed back in England at the end of September 97 and just wanted a break from some of the shit that comes from playing in the same band for over 15 years. That break turned out to last for about 3 years by which time I was itching to get back to the States. I had not spoke to Carty for the whole of that 3 years, so I had no band, no new material and no real clue as to what to do next. I made one phone call to one of the contacts I had made in the states, she agreed to manage the band and hook us up with a booking agent that would book us all over the U.S. I said, 'Do it'. I then had to find a band and start writing.
The name of the band had automatically been shortened by punters to 'The Love Cowboys' so I stuck with it, I made a call to Carty to see if he was up to going back to the States and I found a really good local bass player that turned out to be a complete twat. I wanted to go back down the Psychobilly route but wanted to do something that would make people smile. So I wrote a 'concept album' called 'Sex Kill A Go Go' which is just a bunch of sick twisted songs that are done in a kind of Psycho/ Country and western/ Jazz-a-billy style. We took this to America, got signed and worked 7 nights a week for 3 months playing in every state but Alaska and Hawaii. On arriving back in the U.K. I sacked the bass player and asked my brother if he would be interested in coming on the next tour. He agreed, so the original Surf Rats line up embarked on a winter tour of America up until Xmas 2001. Stan then returned to his day job leaving me to find another bass player for our next tour. Gary Day expressed interest but ultimately took the Morrissey gig again. I finally heard from Thomas who had been playing with The Frantic Flintstones out in Germany I think. Great bass player, great guy. It was Thomas who brought my attention to the fact that there was still a lot of interest in The Surf Rats as he lived out in Paris and Berlin. I was totally unaware of this interest other than the occasional measly royalty cheque I used to receive from the album sales. It was while we were on this tour with Tom playing bass that we tried to start setting things up in Europe.
How many albums did the Love Cowboys release?
Just two. ĎThunder Roadí(1997) & ĎSex Kill A Go Goí(2000)
The Surf Rats reformed briefly in 1999 (?) what brought that about?
It was actually 2002. Nobody knew that we had continued to play under other names. Thomas had lots of contacts in Europe and he began letting people know that we were still out there. We got offered a headline slot at the 10th Psychobilly festival in Calella, Spain. This had to be a Surf Rats gig though. So, we got back from the States and we had to re learn all those old tunes on the two Surf Rats albums. It was a great gig. Awesome to see all those people.
Anything is possible. I would love to do it again. The material is there. The players are there. It just all comes down to time and money I'm afraid.
Are you and Stan still active musically these days? Are you still in touch with Carty?
Carty stayed in the states to get married at the end of the last American tour. I havenít heard or seen him since. Donít know why. I play occasionally, usually just for the hell of it. My brother is a very gifted musician. One of the best double bass players I know. He also took up sax and guitar and happens to a pretty good picker. He doesnít gig anymore. Just plays for his own amazement.