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(added July 2014)



 by John McVicker


Where and when were you brought up?

I was born in 1989 and brought up in Harrow, on the edge of Northwest London, a great place to be for music. Pete Townshend smashed his first guitar in Harrow, and I'm from the same bit of town as Screaming Lord Such and ..err.. Rick Wakeman!


When did you first became interested in music?

I've always been interested in music, never been much good at anything else! I remember being maybe four or five, and listening to my mum's old cassette tapes on the way to school. She'd taped all her vinyl singles and LPs, everything from Doo-wop to Heavy Metal through to New Wave, so it was a real mixed bag.  I remember being slightly obsessed with the Stray Cats' version of 'Can't Hurry Love'! No matter the genre, I knew I wanted to play music like the guys on those cassettes! I took piano lessons from five and never looked back (still haven't mastered 'At The Hop' though!)


When did you first pick up a guitar, what was your first guitar  and who are your favourite guitarists?

I was a bass player first. My mum had taken up bass lessons as a hobby, so we had a couple of electric basses in the house. I learned to play on a short-scale Epiphone SG bass, which had a really distinctive sound, but I soon realised it wasn't for me, 'cause I wanted to sound like Matt Freeman from Rancid, and the SG had more of a thumping Steppenwolf-y tone. I bought a couple of  Aria basses over the years, and played them in Punk bands for a good long while. Still love my cheap-arse Magna II, it's got a fantastic tone!
My first six-string was a banana-yellow Aria, bought for £100 from Harrow music as a present for my 12th birthday. I was never much good at it, and only really used it as a song-writing tool until I discovered The Hives. The moment I heard 'Hate to Say I Told You So', I knew I wanted to be every single member of that band! I taught myself guitar by listening to Nick Arson's rapid twangy power chords, bought a bass pedal to get Matt Destruction's fuzz-tone for my own bass lines, and drove the neighbours crazy teaching myself to play drums like Chris Dangerous, bashing away for hours on my brother's kit! From there on in, I wanted to be a garage guitarist, and that's the path I've been walking for some years now.
Nick Arson was my first 'guitar hero', so to speak, but since then my tastes have broadened a little! Since joining DEATH VALLEY SURFERS and getting into the Psychobilly scene, I've been introduced to a lot of fantastic guitarists that I might not have otherwise heard. For my money, the Reverend Horton Heat is my Psychobilly guitar inspiration, he's got a great way of combining Country smoothness with Punk Rock attack.
Outside the 'billy realm, I'm inspired by a lot of Blues, Country, Jazz and Punk players. I've always loved Marc Ribot's weirdo out-of tune solos on Tom Waits records, and (shock horror) Huey Morgan's versatility, but we don't have to print that, do we?


What was your first band and did you release anything?

My first band was the Vacants, a Punk / Hardcore / Ska group in which I did vocals and bass. We were pretty successful on the local scene in Harrow and Watford, and played a few sold-out shows there before hitting the London scene and learning a few dire lessons about the live music industry! We put out a couple of self-released EPs, but nothing major. We mainly used them to get gigs, or bribe people to buy us beer 'cause we were underage.


How and when did you get to join DEATH VALLEY SURFERS. When's the new album out?

I knew Russ from a long way back - he used to put the Vacants on at the Klub.  One night in 2010 I went to the Gaff (RIP) on Holloway Road to watch King Salami and the Cumberland Three, possibly the best sausage themed R'n'B act of the last twenty years, and DVS were doing support. I won't lie - they were fucking awful! Nonetheless, heading outside for a smoke I saw Russ and gave him the polite 'great show' patter. We shot the breeze for a while before he suddenly said 'Hey, you play guitar, don't you' (completely forgetting I was a bass player), 'I'm firing this lot tonight!'. Two weeks later I was off to Belgium, having never played rockabilly guitar in my life!
It's been a helluva ride, and over the last four years I've seen the band (and myself) improve massively. Fair enough, we're still a 'party band', but we're a fucking good one these days! We're still working on the new album - got the bass and drums pretty much done, but that leaves a lot to do! Hopefully we'll have it ready to go by the time we start touring again this winter - that's our food money, right there!

DVS seems like a great fun band to be in. What's it like playing with Russ and King Kurt legend John Reddington?

DEATH VALLEY SURFERS is a fantastic experience. Hitting the road with those guys is organised chaos in its purest form. On the road, it seems we're never more than five minutes away from certain death, and yet at the same time we can't stop bloody laughing! That said, the reason we don't die is usually down to Russ' meticulous planning (and eerie knowledge of international road regulations!). For all the madness onstage, you've never seen anybody work harder behind the scenes than Russ.  
Having John Reddington in the band has been brilliant as well. Having his experience on board has given us a lot of direction, not to mention his considerable expertise in song-writing.  He's also the only man I know who can suggest something ridiculous, like having the band wear mankinis on stage, but come up with a lengthy situationist historical critique to justify it! All else aside, having a saxophone-playing Francophone lawyer in the van has gotten us out of a few scrapes on the continent! 
We're also lucky to have Dick Dynamite onboard, who is without a doubt the best double-bass slapper I've ever worked with, and another multi-instrumentalist with a real flair for song craft. Behind all that we've got the twin talents of Jeremy and Karl on drums, who each bring their own distinctive sound, which means you get a slightly different show depending on who's playing, but both equally good!
DVS has always been a revolving door, but this is the most solid lineup we've had for years (I think I'm currently the sixth longest serving member, but that may change by the time this gets published!) and it shows.


How and when did the CARDINAL SINS form?

The CARDINAL SINS, my main project, formed out of the ashes of The Crushers, the garage band I fronted after the Vacants broke up. When the Crushers split in 2010, I had a lot of unused garage songs left over, and I also wanted to branch out a little bit and play in a more Nick-Cave/Gun Club/Kid Congo style. It took a while to get the lineup sorted, but we got it together and started playing regular gigs last year. It's proved difficult to really get into gear, as we seem to keep losing drummers - I think we're cursed! We've just had to say goodbye to another, but with any luck we'll be right back into gigging before you know it!


When you guys gonna release a CD or something?

As I say, drummer issues have made it a little tricky to get into the studio, but we've managed to record and mix a couple of tracks ourselves (shameless plug: they're at soundcloud.com/thecardinalsins/sets/2014-demo). I'm pretty pleased with the results - it helps that Mark Kason, my bass player, has a background in sound engineering, but I'd really love to get into the studio with a producer and nail an album proper. That's next on the list!


Any funny on the road stories to share?

Too many to name! One that does stick in my head is from the last time we were in Germany. On the way back we stopped at a service station for some food. Later we're heading down the motorway, and Russ can't find his phone. Nobody can. I ring it, and a lady answers in German, which I don't speak a word of. So I'm doing the standard British thing and shouting really slowly "YOU. HAVE. MY. FRIEND'S..err.. TELEFUNKEN!"), but she doesn't seem to be getting it - go figure. I tell Russ the phone must have been left in the service station, so we turn back. On the way, Russ has a go at ringing the phone, but the only German he really knows is that a mobile phone is called a 'Handy' out there. So he's ringing and doing little better than me - 'DAS. IST. MEIN. HANDY! VAIT. ZERE!', to which the woman is responding in increasingly frantic German before hanging up. We get back to the service station and nothing's been handed in, so we try getting the lady at the till to ring the phone and find out what's going on. She doesn't speak English either, so it takes a lot of waving and gesticulating to get her to call. She tells us the lady on the other end is Chinese,  insisting the phone is hers and threatening us if we continue to bother her. Russ naturally hits the roof - 'IT'S MINE! THE FUCKING CHEEK!' - and we drive off to the local police station to report the theft. While Russ and John are inside the station, I decide to call the lady and warn her that we're telling the police before she runs up huge phone bills to China or whatever. I dial Russ's number and wait. As I'm waiting for the woman to pick up and contemplating what the fuck I'm going to say ('DAS..err..HANDY! POLIZEI! DU HAST! err..') I notice the Beach Boy's 'Surfin' USA' coming faintly from somewhere in the van. I'm about to turn round and tell the band that this is a really inappropriate time to be playing music when it hits me. That's Russ' ringtone. It's buried at the very bottom of the glove compartment, under a stack of coffee-stained instruction manuals and world music CDs left by the last bunch of hippies that rented the van.  Then it occurs to me - all the previous times I'd been ringing Russ, I'd forgotten to dial the country code - apparently Britain and Germany both put a '0' at the start of domestic calls, so I've been ringing a German phone with the same number as Russ'.
I jump out of the van, forgetting I'm wearing a seatbelt, and get strangled. On he second attempt, I run into the police station waving my arms and shouting 'STOOOOOOOOP!' After all is explained, Russ and John have to sheepishly explain that we have the phone after all, and we're very sorry for bothering them at this time of night, and thanks for all their help anyway. Russ describes the desk sergeant raising an eyebrow and shaking his head - 'How did zey vin?'.
The worst part of the story is that we have spent about half an hour harassing some poor old Chinese woman, calling her and shouting 'MEIN HANDY!' over and over again. I'm quite glad I never had the chance to threaten her with the police.  Since that day, I've bought a German phrase book and put country codes on all my numbers. Russ still won't let me live it down.


What's your fave place to play? U.K. or abroad?

Abroad, for sure. I've been playing London and the UK for most of my career, and, whilst it's true that I've met some great people and played with some truly great bands, you never get the same enthusiasm and energy for live music that you get in Europe, particularly if you're playing small towns. In Belgium, for example, we played at a place called the Pits, in a sleepy village somewhere. Tiny club, with the distinguishing feature that its urinals are out in the open, in the middle of the bar area! I looked at the walls, and they had framed photos and set lists of all my favourite garage acts - The Oblivians, the Gories, the Mummies, Flat Duo Jets etc. To think they'd played in this tiny fucking club! Anyway, by the time we're due onstage, the place is packed out the door - people have driven for miles to come see us. That's something you never get back home!  Another great thing about playing in places like Belgium, Holland, Germany or the Czech Republic is that scenes don't matter - as long as the music's cool, people will turn up and have a good time!


What do you do away from music?

By day, I'm a mild-mannered facilities manager for the London Borough of Islington. Not the most Rock 'n' Roll of day jobs, but it pays the bills and keeps me on the road as often as possible! I also play in a couple of other bands. I'm lead guitarist for Country-Garage-Punkers the Spacewasters, and I play bass in the Perpetrators, a covers band with some guys from work. I keep busy!


And finally what do hope the future holds for you, DEATH VALLEY SURFERS and the CARDINAL SINS?

Honestly, I just want to keep playing as much as I can. I'm looking forward to going from strength to strength with the SINS, and getting to explore song-writing a little more. I can't wait to get the DVS record finished and tour it (we're off to Estonia and Finland in October, then off on a UK tour with Theatre of Hate in December) , and keep gigging with the other bands too. I don't get a helluva lot of sleep, and I thank my lucky stars that my missus is patient with me taking all this crap on at once! But it's in my blood, and I can't stop playing music, and obsessing about cool records. I really believe that every gig teaches me something new, whether it's about myself and how I play, or the business of running a band in general. The free beer's pretty cool too!