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(added October 2015)
INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT GILHAM
( BASS PLAYER WITHT HE PHANTOM COWBOYS)
by John McVicker
Tell us a little about yourself . When and where you were born and grew up?
We were all born and grew up in and around Norwich in the UK in the late seventies and eighties. All four of us were in the same year at school.
When did you first become interested in music?
Actually I didn't have much time for music till I was about 14. The charts
were full of crappy house music and stuff like the Happy Mondays
that didn't mean much to me.
One of my mates older brothers played us The Clash's London Calling one day and that was like an electric shock. I became a Clash obsessive, then The Damned came to town so we went to see them and it was the loudest thing I'd ever experienced and I just thought 'that is fucking brilliant'.
When did you first pick up a musical instrument? What was is ?
My neighbours classical guitar, I broke a string and the owner said bring it back when you've restrung it, which was a nice way to say borrow it. Twenty years later I finally broke it completely!
What was your first band?
The PHANTOM COWBOYS! A band started at school, no one wanted to be bassist so I accepted. They were basically all guitar geeks except one guy who didn't seem to give a shit and knew lots of Doors' riffs, that was Lord Emsworth, our guitarist and singer. Then it was just the two of us practising in my bedroom for a bit until we recruited the Serpent to play drums.
How did things go from there? Were there any line up chnages?
Well the band really became THE PHANTOM COWBOYS because Emsworth and I moved on to Rockabilly. I got a double bass and learnt to play it, but Emsworth was going even further back, he was obsessed with all these ancient jazz records and reading ghost stories by Victorian writers and that's really where the PHANTOM COWBOYS identity and sound came from. That was when we got Megz in on rhythm guitar. He was our fourth mate and looked quite cool and and loads of horror films on VHS, so we taught him three chords and put him on stage. He always looked a bit harder than the rest of us, and the extra presence and extra noise made us more confident. It's been the four of us ever since.
Where was first gig?
A pub called the Brickmakers in Norwich in 1994. We played a mixture of Punk and Stray Cats covers and the barman threw water over us because he hated us so much! To be fair, we were fairly shit in those days.
How do you think you went down with the so called Psychobilly scene?
We always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Psychobilly scene to be honest.
We were always much younger than the average crowd and we were always in black suits and shades while everyone else was all tattoos and green hair! Mostly the crowds seemed to like it but there was sometimes a bit of feeling from the original guys on the scene that we hadn't paid our dues, etc.
I remember being quite disappointed when we supported The Meteors, and they weren't very friendly, which was sad because we were big fans of theirs.
But at the same time, people like Alan Wilson from the Sharks and Loz from the Hangmen were incredibly kind to us.
Generally in the nineties, there was no mainstream interest in rockabilly or other alternative music, apart from the odd band like the Flaming Stars, so we were reliant on the Psycho scene to an extent. I think eventually we were accepted as being something different but a band that people enjoyed. Being on Anagram's Deathrow Chronicles compilation a few years later was nice, because it was like we'd been acknowledged as being an important band of the period.
How did the album come about? Why release on own label and how did it sell?
Well frankly we got fed up of waiting for a label to offer to do it! We'd
done tracks on compilations for Bone Tone, and Skully Records'
Gothabilly series in the US, but an album deal just
wasn't happening for us.
Doing it ourselves was quite an odd thing to do. This was all before online self publishing became a common thing. I called up Roy Williams at Nervous who was fantastic and he explained what to do, and agreed to distribute it. We got Wayne Beauchamp who's a mate and a graphic designer who did loads of work for Raucous to do the artwork, and we had lots of recorded material, so the whole thing was eventually done on a shoestring.
It sold well initially as a CD but after we split up a year later, I thought "oh well that's it". Then I found it was being shared on p2p networks, and Roy rang up and wanted to handle the digital rights, so now it's on iTunes and Spotify. I've honestly no idea how it's doing, but it's gratifying that with no publicity or anything the Club Cruella album keeps coming back from the dead!
Any funny stories on the road or involving other bands?
Well we were due to play Skully Records' launch party for the Gothabilly CD at CBGBs. Things came to a head because someone couldn't go, and the other three of us went anyway, didn't play the gig and spent every penny the band had ever made on a weekend long piss-up in New York!
Why did you split?
We just got to a point in about 1999 where we were all a bit older and had other things going on in our lives, we always meant to get back together, it just took a little longer than intended!
What did the band members go on and do did you stay friends and in touch?
Absolutely, the Serpent was best man for Emsworth and Megz' weddings and I'm godfather to Megz' daughter! Basically they're the only three people in the world who think I'm vaguely funny or interesting.
When did you decide to get back to together-is it the original line up?
Late last year, and yes it's still the original four members.
How many gigs so far?
Just two. We did a warm-up in July and our official reunion gig in August in Norwich.
What does the future hold ? any euro gigs new album?
We want to do more gigs, but we have a quality not quantity approach, so
we're speaking to a few people, but we only want venues and places that interest
us, but we'll consider anywhere. My big regret other than the CBGBs gig is that
we never played in continental Europe.
We're currently working on new material. The plan is to record some stuff this autumn and do something, maybe an EP early next year. We'll definitely be putting in some dates to promote that also.
THE PHANTOM COWBOYS