Saturday, June 5, 2010

Exclusive: Interview With David Ditchfield of The Mood Elevators - Birmingham Indie Band Signed To The Beat's Go-Feet Records

The late 1970's and early 1980's saw the explosion of indie record labels all over the U.K like Factory Records, Stiff Records and Rough Trade. One of them was Go-Feet. Though inspired by the energy and ethos of the 2-Tone label, the Go Feet label founded by The Beat in 1980 sought to take control of their own destiny.

The Beat established Go Feet (as a subsidiary of their major U.K. label Arista) to shield themselves from the many negative aspects of dealing with a corporate record label. In this way, the band was given more creativity to record their own music, as well as to sign and promote bands that the major labels would not take a chance on. Dave Wakeling describes the band’s inspiration for forming the label as coming from “The Specials’ notion of 2-Tone. We were quite impressed that it appeared that they had signed with a record label that could get them on the radio and that they had control of them.”

One of the band's that The Beat discovered was The Mood Elevators, who also hailed from Birmingham. The three original members of the Mood Elevators (David Ditchfield, Noel Green, and Jenny Jones) met after literally being thrown together following a street fight. Once ready to gig in early 1980, the band began to book gigs at pubs around Birmingham. Impressed by the live performance they witnessed, The Beat offered them an opportunity to record a single on the Go Feet label along with the supporting spot on a UK tour. Only two 7-inch singles were released by the band. Their first, 'Annapurna' (named after a series of peaks in the Himalaya Mountains in Nepal), was a big hit on the indie scene.

According to the Go Feet records fan site, the band practiced regularly in a hardware shop owned by Jenny's parents located in Maypole, Birmingham. Once ready to gig in early 1980, the band began to book spots at pubs around Birmingham. These gigs earned them a following and it was not long until they gained notice. On April 16, 1980 the Beat attended one of the Mood Elevators' gigs at the Barrel Organ pub after being enticed by a flyer for it. Impressed by the performance they witnessed, The Beat requested a demo.

The Beat had been impressed by the band's live performance. Believing that the Mood Elevators deserved greater exposure and confident that they could produce a hit, The Beat offered them an opportunity to record a single on the Go Feet label along with the supporting spot on a UK tour. However, this relationship was not enough to ensure a place on the charts by that point in time. The ska craze which had gripped the UK was in a steady decline, so simple association no longer meant a hit single (granted that the Mood Elevators did not actually play ska).

While a slot on the UK charts would ultimately elude the Mood Elevators, they made quite a big name for themselves within the independent music scene. The N.M.E. described them as "Friendly, frenetic and brilliantly instantaneous," and the band's compelling live performances quickly drew in many fans as they toured throughout the country playing on bills with other Midlands-based bands like The Equators, Eclipse and The Au-Pairs.

I've always loved the band's first and only single 'Annapurna' for Go-Feet. It has a mysterious and intoxicating pop feel featuring the co-vocals of Ditchfield and Jones and has a definite Beat-inspired vibe (which is no surprise given it was produced by Andy Cox and David Steele who called themselves the 'Punjab Brothers'). Its clean, crisp and catchy and deserved a larger audience than it received. The band's second single, a cover of the 60's hit 'Georgie Girl'' is backed by a song that is delicious guitar driven pop made even more irresistible by a Ranking Roger chat. Again, production duties were handled by Dave Wakeling and Roger giving the song a proper Beat-like sheen.

I recently connected with the band's guitarist and singer David Ditchfield who recounted his memories of the band's experiences writing and recording for Go-Feet and touring with The Beat.

What was it like growing up in Birmingham in the UK in the 70's and how did that influence you musically and artistically?
Birmingham in the 70's was pretty much Britain's 'Motor Town' & the city centre itself was a ripped up, architects 'City of the Future' disaster. In the middle of this were some great clubs centered in the old decaying parts of town. Barbarella's was a small punk club that I was lucky enough to go & see just about every single punk band from X-Ray Spex to The Clash performing there in this fantastic intimate venue.

When did you pick up the guitar and decide you wanted to start a band?
I picked up the guitar around the age of 14, my big brother was in a really good local progressive rock band at that time, so I looked up to him & I really wanted to be a part of that whole scene. By the time I was 17 I was turned on to the whole punk thing. I auditioned to play guitar for a punk band called 'Red Alert'. Using a 5 pence coin as a plectrum to get a real raw sound out of my guitar, I got the job! It was at this time that I met Jenny who had joined the band a couple of weeks previous playing drums. We had a mad time, but the bubble soon burst so I started writing some songs of my own. Jenny & I always had a great working chemistry so we decided to form our own band.

Is it true that you met your band mates Jenny Jones and Noel Green as a result of a street fight?
It sounds like some fancy concocted story but it is actually true..not that we were led to the notion of fighting in the street! Me & Jenny had been to a party with my old school mate Phil & his brother Noel. After leaving, a couple of blokes set about me for changing the music at the party & Phil, Noel & Jenny literally jumped to my defence. We walked away triumphantly brushing our tails & decided there & then to bring Noel on board.

How did you decide to call the band The Mood Elevators?
We wanted a name that was like a movement almost in the same way the Pre-Raphaelite's were to art...A collective!

What was the music scene in Birmingham like in 1980? Where did the band fit into the Birmingham music scene of the early 80's that included UB40, The Beat, Dexy's Midnight Runners, The Equators, Au Pairs? How would you describe the style of the music you played?
It was odd but by 1980 there was a sudden uprise of creative talent coming out of Birmingham like it had never really seen. Following the Two Tone revolution in Coventry, there was this whole overnight shift in boundaries of gender & race broken down within this new crop of bands. We, as a band were part of that notion, suddenly the energy of female musicians were shinning through. Bands with female members like The Belle Stars, The Au Pairs & ourselves at that time were, to quote words of 'The Specials' song 'The Dawning Of A New Era'

How did you end up meeting members of The Beat? Is it true that a flyer you posted for a show initially caught their attention?
We wanted to make a visual statement of who we were before people had even heard a single note. A kind of Andy Warhol approach if you like! Yes it's true to say that The Beat saw our posters around the streets of Birmingham and were intrigued by the image of three people sat in a Triumph Herald convertible with a huge full moon blazing down on them but with no other information on the posters.

You ended up on tour with The Beat quite quickly after playing your first show with them. Can you share any memorable experiences from being on tour with them?
We had a fantastic time touring with The Beat, following only a handful of gigs in Birmingham for us there was a sense of being part of an experience, something new, a whole cultural event, there was a great vibe about that tour! We were now playing to 2,000 people a night all around the country and going down well. The first show happened literally within days of The Beat coming down to see us playing at a small pub in Birmingham called The Barrel Organ. We were the support act to a reggae band that night, who ironically were keen to get the opening slot on the forthcoming Beat tour. We had a phone call from The Beat management that eve, saying that a few members of the band would like to come and see us play. I can remember as we performed on this tiny stage, seeing the whole of The Beat walking in. They came up after and congratulated us on our gig, saying that they liked our sound, telling us to ring their management. Then to our surprise they asked if they could borrow our gear to play a few songs before the reggae band went on. Despite The Beat being top 5 in the singles chart that week, the audience in this tiny pub were then treated to a handful of their finest!

The band recorded a song called 'Anapurna' that was released on the Go-Feet label in 1981. Tell me about recording the single and the reaction it generated? Was there ever any discussion about recording and releasing an album on Go-Feet?
We recorded and mixed 'Annapurna' in two days at a studio in central London. It was produced by David Steele and Andy Cox. There was never really any talk between us all to do an album, the whole idea behind it was to be a spring board for us and it certainly had that effect. We went on to receive reviews in all the national music press and radio, we were suddenly headlining our own tour in the UK then eventually Europe.

You recorded a second single titled 'Georgie Girl' for the Red Records label. It was produced by The Beat and features Ranking Roger on the B-side. What was it like to record with Roger?
We recorded this single that was again produced by the Beat, though this time Dave Wakeling & Ranking Roger also became involved. We were laying down the backing track to a song called 'You Never Try' & Roger liked this song from hearing it in our set from the tour. He then turned round & asked for a mic & laid down some toasting. He just picked up on the lyrics & it sat so well & grooved within the song

Why did the band break-up in June 1981?
I can remember John Mostyn who was The Beat's Manager at that time saying that the average life of a band is around two years, which surprised me then, but he was right!

Can you tell me what you do now? Are you still involved in music and the arts?
I am still involved in music, I have expanded my range from being a guitarist to writing & arranging string parts for other artist's & have recently composed my 1st symphony for orchestra which was performed to a sellout audience in Cambridge July 2008. I am now working on my 1st solo album project that will encompass a mix of both my routes of being in a band using electronic sounds meeting my new found discovery of orchestra. You can have a listen at my MySpace Web site.

What are your lasting memories of being in The Mood Elevators?
Starting an idea between three people in a small garage & sticking with it!

Though the band's recorded output was limited to just two singles, they did record a radio session for BBC Radio One, which was so popular and well received that they were soon asked to return for another session 'by popular demand'. It hasn't been heard since it was aired but Ditchfield has been kind enough to share two songs ('Waiting For Jane' and 'Metro Girl') from the BBC session for download. I've also added 'You Never Try' featuring Ranking Roger from the b-side of the band's second single 'Georgie Girl'. While The Mood Elevators may not have experienced much success on the pop charts, their music should not be ignored. It is well worth checking out - especially for hardcore fans of The Beat.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Marco for this Interview and for The Sessions. I didn't know David & Andy Produced Annapurna I'm surprised it wasn't mentioned on the 7"



Anonymous said...

At Least we know who The Punjap Brothers are now.



Marco On The Bass said...

Hi Paul! Yes, I guess the Punjab Bothers were the precursor to 2 Men, A Drum Machine and a Trumpet.

Sonchey said...

Top post Marco Cheers Buddy!

Anonymous said...

I was lucky enough to see the Mood Elevators perform several times in the early 1980's. Their energy and stage presence was second to none.

Unknown said...

My band 021 played with the Mood Elevators for a Save the Whale gig at the infamous Golden Eagle in Birmingham 1981 - Remember them and the night well, I have seen the gig poster on the tinternet over the years! :)

Unknown said...

My band 021 played with the Mood Elevators for a Save the Whale gig at the infamous Golden Eagle in Birmingham 1981 - Remember them and the night well, I have seen the gig poster on the tinternet over the years! :)