Diagram Brothers \ Biography
Active between 1979 and 1982, Manchester art-noise post-punk combo Diagram Brothers cut three singles and one album, much of this vinyl released on New Hormones, the label founded by Buzzcocks. Feted by John Peel, the Brothers recorded three BBC radio sessions in as many years, and drew comparisons with Gang of Four, XTC, Wire and Fire Engines for their angular, dissonant dance music, as well as Devo and The Residents for their sometimes idiosyncratic stance.
The four faux-sibling Brothers described their music as 'Discordo', as bassist Andy Diagram explains: "The music was made to a strict formula, or set of rules. All the guitar chords were based on discordant notes, all the beats were very simple rock or disco, and all the words were very straightforward and down to earth." Added to which, from a contemporary press release-cum-manifesto: "The Diagram Brothers realise that there is something unique in the ordinary, everyday object and event, mixing their observations with comment, wit and irony. The lyrics are ultra-normal. We make sure we don't use long words."
The high-concept quartet formed in Manchester in late October 1979, initially comprising Lawrence Diagram (guitar), Fraser Diagram (vocals and guitar), Simon Diagram (drums) and Jason Diagram (bass). Of the four, only the rhythm section were in fact brothers, although all were science students. A six song demo tape was recorded in December and circulated in January 1980, with the happy result that the band secured a slot at a John Peel Roadshow at Manchester University on 2 February.
Although the pa system failed on the night, Peel was sufficiently impressed to offer the band a radio session, recorded at Maida Vale in March. The four tracks - Bricks, Bikers, We Are All Animals and There Is No Shower - were produced by Tony Wilson (not the Factory founder), and proved so popular that the session was repeated no fewer than five times.
The buzz around the first Peel Session saw the band booked to support UB40 at the Russell Club in April (not a Factory night), and play in London at the Institute of contemporary Arts in June. This particular ICA Rock Week was sponsored by Capital Radio and showcased provincial bands from the north and west of England, including Wah! Heat, Ludus, A Certain Ratio, Section 25, Durutti Column, Clock DVA and Music For Pleasure. The Diagram Brothers appeared on 19 June, supporting the Glaxo Babies, and won over Adrian Thrills of the NME: "They are the Pop Group that the likes The Members and Piranhas never quite became. Titles like Bricks and There Is No Shower recall the celebrated sound of the suburbs, but the Brothers take things a stage further by welding their earthy, everyday lyrics to a move inventive musical approach. Any cynicism is tempered by their approachable good humour."
In September 1980 the band also appeared at the Beach Club, the seminal Manchester venue run by Richard Boon and Eric Random of New Hormones. Reviewing the show for Sounds, Mick Wall found much to like: "Their music is like a spindly long-legged insect out of control, gyrating funk propelled by intense, angular rhythm. Far from being bleak and bullshitty, they cheered this miserable man up. I smell alternative chart action for the Brothers when their single is released soon."
Despite the Peel Session, and a measure of local notoriety, The Diagram Brothers failed to secure a record deal for their first single, and their 7" vinyl debut eventually appeared on Mike Hinc's Construct imprint. Released in October 1980, the EP featured three cuts, with lead track We Are All Animals backed with There Is No Shower and I Would Like to Live In Prison. Animals seemed to confirm Darwin's theory of evolution, while the flipside ('the worrying stuff side') drew inspiration from a legless boy's letter to the local council for funds and planning permission to build a shower, neglected in the bureaucratic Big Sleep
Simon Diagram recalls: "Prison marked the invention of 'Alternato', a musical technique invented by the Brothers in which two guitarists alternatively and in quick succession play one chord each at opposite ends of the fretboard, forming a Discordo sequence that would be impossible for one guitarist to play alone." Fraser added: "Subsequently, we all worked together to create (dis)chords that we had never heard before. Simon would often take our fingers and place them on the frets until he heard a new sound. Lawrence was also totally inspired and original."
'Crazy' and 'demented' featured among the other adjectives employed by NME to describe the record. By the time the EP appeared, bassist Jason had left the band, returning to his Bristol hometown and a gig in The Skodas. Thanks to an advert at the Manchester Musicians' Collective, he was replaced by Andy Diagram, a native of London who also played trumpet in eclectic popsters Dislocation Dance.
The first (and last) Diagram Brothers feature article to appear in any of the weekly UK music papers came in November 1980, courtesy of NME journalist Mick Duffy. Praising the quartet as 'a great new pop band' and 'Manchester's most potent contenders', the piece also explored the impressive tally of B.Sc's, M.Sc's and Ph.D's shared between the four Brothers, and how these unhip credentials might affect their post-punk credibility:
"I suppose it's inverse intellectual snobbery to worry about it," explains Lawrence, "but students do get such a bad press. There's an obvious Temptation to try to avoid it. Me and Fraser always refer to ourselves as research scientists, but even then people don't expect scientists to be in a decent band either. That's why some of our songs aim to destroy the stereotyped impressions people make about certain groups in society. We're certainly very methodical in our songwriting. And we approach our music in a very logistical way."
Duffy also revealed something of The Diagram Brother's unorthodox working methods: "This conceptual, logistical approach to rock certainly dictates the way the band is organised. For example, when a studio session is imminent they get together beforehand and draw up a 'working chart', which clearly defines the role of each member and states in what order they will perform their functions. Likewise, they also made meticulous preparations for this interview. A pen-written pad of notes is intermittently referred to in order to help them articulate certain band policies and viewpoints."
Bona fide Diagram Brothers indeed. Between November 1980 and January 1981 the band took part in a sporadic New Hormones live package, dubbed I Like Shopping, along with Ludus, Dislocation Dance, Eric Random and The Mudhutters. The tour visited Bury, Leeds, York and various venues in Manchester and London. The band also recorded their second Peel session in January 1981, cutting Postal Bargains, Those Men in White Coats, My Bad Chest Feels Much Better Now and I Didn't Get Where I Am Today By Being a Right Git, with Dale Griffin in the producer's chair.
In April 1981 the Brothers made their debut on the revitalised New Hormones label, with a 7" coupling Bricks and Postal Bargains (ORG 9). Both songs were already firm favourites thanks to the Peel Sessions, boasting funky guitars and upfront drumming, and earned a clutch of good reviews: "An uneasy funk, in which two guitars appear to throttle each other" (Smash Hits)
"Not easy to dance to. I tried and twisted my ankle, because the music kind of stops and starts" (The Leveller)
"Not quite as danceable as Heaven 17 but it could easily be played at any of the new dance clubs" (Philadelphia Triangle)
Between April and September the group recorded a clutch of songs for the first album, all taped at Cargo, the Rochdale studio then owned by John Brierley. In September the Diagrams also played their biggest show to date at the third Futurama festival, held at Stafford New Bingley Hall on September 5th and 6th, haring the Sunday bill with Simple Minds, Bow Wow Wow, Doll by Doll, Modern Eon, UK Decay, The Virgin Prunes, Ludus, Blue Orchids and others.
Released on 20 November 1981, the album Some Marvels of Modern Science (ORG 17) arrived housed in an attractive postmodern sleeve by Richard Boon, together with four 'dead interesting' 12" card inserts. No tracks from previous singles were included, but the cards were designed to be cut/folded/assembled into a handy Diagram Brothers Portfolio, comprising twenty postcards featuring images, lyrics and information about the group.
In Allez Oop fanzine, Fraser Diagram explained that some of the lyrics came from everyday places, including Words From Major: "That was taken from a newspaper article about the rioting here [Moss Side, July 1981]. We had been thinking about some music that Lawrence had come up with, and were trying to find some subject matter to fit it. We had a copy of the Manchester Evening News in front of us. Simon picked it up and said, 'What we need is something spontaneous like. Word From Major Sends Mob Packing.' It dawned on us that this was perfect. So we edited out the dross and kept things such as 'every man who's worth his salt would do what I did' and 'my stay in the army taught me never to be frightened.'"
The album attracted several positive reviews, with Paul Tickell writing in NME: "The Diagram Brothers play an extraordinary, quirky, jerky brand of speedo funk, as if some Pavlovian behaviourist has got hold of The Gang of Four and started to do tricky experiments on them... Science before sentience, the didactic before the ecstatic seems to be the unusual anti-rock n' roll idea... SMOMS is an album of observations which are never dull, and of music which - in spite of being clinical - is never cold. I quite warm to this kind of off-beat fun and to the proof that the English eccentric spirit needn't necessarily take twee grown-up public schoolboy forms."
However others were less enthusiastic, including Record Mirror ("more irritating than irresistible"), Birmingham FT ("one of the few good things at this year's Futurama, but this disappoints") and ZigZag ("inventive, but quite sparse"). Worse still, Steve Sutherland in Melody Maker saw fit to bury the album as "the most moronically unimaginative ever made. And anyway, I've got all the XTC albums I need."
The Brothers appeared unperturbed. According to drummer Simon: "Slaggings of the album are a great encouragement. If I saw a band that received such adverse coverage, I'd go and buy their record." To which guitarist Lawrence added: "Those comparisons are ridiculous. Just because we use discords we immediately get tarred with the same brush as XTC. Stravinsky was probably the first person to use discords, and dissonant music has not even begun to be properly explored. Discords hold great power, emotionally and physically, and we use them in a completely different manner."
On 3 December 1981 the band played another London date at the Boulevard Theatre in Soho, and on 31 December saw in the New Year with an intimate date at Eden's Wine Bar in Manchester, shared with Durutti Column and wryly billed as 'Uncle Vincent's Hogmanay Special'. Already radio favourites via Peel, on 9 February 1982 the group appeared on national television, performing Isn't It Interesting How Neutron Bombs Work and I Didn't Get Where I Am Today By Being A Right Git on the BBC2 arts programme Riverside.
But times were changing. Back in Manchester the Diagram Brothers recorded a new single at Pluto, and on 10 May performed a radically different show as part of the New Hormones Maydaze presentation at the Band on the Wall. This was billed as 'a quirky panorama of the world and it's contents - a discordo documentary of the ordinary, as succinct as Gilbert & Sullivan, with a more contemporary beat.' Owing to Simon's unavoidable absence, the remaining trio played with a drum machine and performed in suits and bow ties, with nothing more than vocals and microphones. New material such as the song Discordo hinted at the brave new musical territory the Brothers intended to explore, a singular (and hardly commercial) fusion of trademark dischords with Gilbert & Sullivan and The Four Tops.
The new EP appeared in June on 10" format (ORG 21), with title track Discordo joined by Fondue Soiree, My Dinner and Cherry Blossom. The list of 'instruments' played included meat trays, a wastepaper bin, a milk bottle, a tobacco tin and Morphy Richards TUID/3 (the toaster featured on the cover of Some Marvels of Modern Science). It was hardly New Pop, nor as catchy-quirky as Bricks a year earlier, with the result that praise (and sales) were somewhat qualified: "If Devo came from Manchester they'd probably sound like this oddball quartet who, of course, aren't brothers at all. This 10-incher finds them singing lines like "How important is my dinner?" over sharp and jerky rhythms. Sounds silly? It is. Good though" (Record Mirror)
The third and final Peel Session was recorded at Maida Vale in June 1982. and featured five new tracks: Hey Dad!, Tracey, You've Got To Pick a Pocket Or Two, The Expert and a skewed cover of You'll Never Walk Alone. The new directions explored here boded well for a second album, but by now New Hormones had run short of money, and so this final visit to the BBC proved to be the last Diagrams recordings. That said, a swansong 7" EP slipped out on Berlin label Outatune Records featuring the a-sides Bricks and Discordo, as well as a German language version of Right Git.
Although a series of live shows was planned with the new material, just one full concert was performed, at Keighley Funhouse on 14 June. Apart from their goal of appearing on Top of the Pops (in truth, never a likely proposition), by late 1982 the band had achieved everything they had set out to do as amateur musicians: enjoy themselves, write odd music, cut some records, tour with interesting bands, and appear on radio and television. With Lawrence and Fraser coming to the end of their time at college, and with jobs pending, the Diagram Brothers decided to disband amicably at the end of the year. However Andy continued working as a professional musician, preserving the Diagram surname in Dislocation Dance, and has since played with Pale Fountains, James, The Honkies and Spaceheads, as well as forming one half of the Two Pale Boys projects with David Thomas and Frank Black.
The Diagrams'collected studio recordings are available on the CD Some Marvels of Modern Science + Singles (LTMCD 2480), and all three Peel sessions on The Peel Sessions (LTMCD 2558).
diagram brothers interview by justin toland
In 2007, all five Diagram Brothers - Fraser (Reich), Lawrence (Fitzgerald), Simon (Pitchers), Jason (Pitchers) and Andy (Diagram) - met up for the first time in a quarter of a century. Justin Toland was at the Midland Hotel in Manchester to take notes and ask questions.
FD: Now Justin, we might be a bit unruly, so it's all right for you to keep us in line. My name is Fraser Diagram - I am of course the good-looking one. I sang and played second guitar to Lawrence's first guitar.
LD: Lawrence, and I played second guitar to Fraser's first guitar. We had half a guitar each.
FD: Lawrence can actually play, that was the point.
JD: I'm Jason Diagram and I used to play bass, don't know whether it was first or second bass.
SD: I'm Simon Diagram and I'm the fattest!
JT: How did the band form?
JD: I remember how the name came about: it was Williot-Mohr diagram [a structural engineering term] wasn't it? The concept was we wanted to form a band based on discords.
FD: You guys were playing in the Mysterons.
LD: I think it was Simon's idea originally.
FD: You lads were playing in the Mysterons, but it wasn't quite what you wanted to be. And I remember you talking to me and saying 'I'm in this band, but we might want to do something a bit more cutting edge'.
LD: Is that the term I used?
FD: Or something. And then you talked to me about the kind of music you were interested in doing.
JT: Which was?
FD: Well, just a bit more.
JD: It was based on discords.
LD: I definitely liked XTC at that time.
FD: And we arranged to meet.
LD: I can't remember.
SD: This is one bit I do remember clearly. What it was, we were in the Mysterons and we recognized that were some occasional really good bits with the Mysterons mixed with most of the Mysterons which was not that good really. The idea was to.
LD: Just leave the guitar solos.
AD: Can I sit here?
FD: The head of the table.
AD: It's quite a grand chair.
JT: We've only just started.
JD: We're on how did the band form?
AD: I wanna hear this bit - how did the band form?
SD: The Mysterons had a lot of rubbish stuff and the occasional good stuff. The idea was to take the good stuff and then have a very, very strict quality control so we only did good stuff in the new band and no crap. That was the plan.
JT: Did the Mysterons play live much? Where were you playing?
LD: Mostly round the university - student gigs.
FD: I've still got three pristine tapes of Mysterons by the way if you are interested. Unplayed.
LD: That'll be the Mysterons' "Headcleaner" tape.
FD: It is, Headcleaner.
SD: Headcleaner! Ha, ha, ha, ha.
JT: Unplayed and unplayable probably!
SD: We do the NME or something Battle of the Bands.
JD: Oh yeah.
SD: That was the worst thing I've ever done.
LD: I mean just in the same way that football's fixed, you just got the idea that all the big record companies had just named their place bands, who were going to win.
JT: So who won the competition then?
SD: Somebody rubbish probably. Even rubbisher.
LD: yeah, that's fair to say - probably a lot rubbisher.
FD: You guys are educated: you can't use that as a comparative adjective. Rubbisher.
JT: Did you have a following of any kind?
SD: No, not at all.
FD: It was a really eclectic mix, coz each one of you wrote a song, so you had that fantastic hotch-potch that shows that everybody in the band's got slightly, well quite different, craves.
LD: Different tastes. Who was the guitarist, I can't even remember his name?
SD: Nick Semmons.
LD: Nick! He was obviously into his rambling guitar solos of indeterminate length.
SD: That's right, he used to turn his back on the audience, didn't he. He used to just go into his own little world and play a solo. He did it very well.
LD: [It was] like everything else in the mid-70s - I'm trying to think of some bands.
JD: It was almost Santana-ish, wasn't it?
LD: But he wasn't Carlos Santana!
SD: But Lawrence, can you remember we had that song called "I'm a terrible driver" and that was the beginning of discord, because you put all the discords in it. It went [hums riff].
JT: So the Diagram Brothers came from that song.
AD: I'm a terrible driver!
[Lots of laughter]
JT: You mentioned some of the influences - XTC. Anyone else?
LD: I was into a load of crap then. Embarrassing stuff. And David Bowie.
FD: I was massively into Gang of Four and Beefheart.
LD: I was much more melodic.
JT: You were the New Wave man?
LD: I think I was just - I was more into melody. I liked the way XTC combined melody with discord - that was pretty much my idea. And I think to me our best was when we did that - I like Fondue Soiree. There's like a melody and then it goes into anarchy.
JD: I was into Jazz-Rock, I liked Stanley Clarke and Brand X.
FD: Oh yeah, you guys loved Brand X.
JD: Bruford, Phil Collins and Percy Jones.
LD: You were into Miles Davis I remember. And reggae.
SD: In terms of being in a rock band it definitely would have been things like Gang of Four.
AD: People say Diagram Brothers and Devo, but there were never any Devo lovers, not really.
LD: The conceptual thing people put together.
SD: They copied us didn't they?
JD: They were out a couple of years before us, but they did copy (!)
JT: They teleported into the future and came back. You all had the same name. What was the philosophy of the band? Why did you do that?
LD: Signing on.
That's why bands changed their name, wasn't it? I think it was originally with us that reason.
FD: I remember when we met - we met in the pub that time, we had a big conceptual meeting in the pub. Was that in The Shambles?
JD: I think it was.
FD: We sat down, very normal, and without even singing a note or playing a note we discussed the conceptual side of it, and how it had to be ultra democratic. That came to be a kind of interesting rod for our backs, the fact that we adhered to that ultra - we agreed that we'd only do certain things in certain ways. And then we all kind of looked at each other and said okay, shall we have a go. And then we agreed to meet up and.
LD: We'd all decided not to do gigs. We'd wasted loads of time and I think everybody agreed it was a waste of time going round tiny little venues, so we decided to put together a tape, didn't we. And we were really determined to get it played on John Peel, and you came up with all sorts of imaginative ideas. . And at the same time we got that John Peel Roadshow through those friends of yours, Simon.
LD: At the same time we just had ready our tape, and we'd actually sent it off just a few weeks before to John Peel. And we'd sent it in a brick. And that was your idea [Simon], to send it in a brick, because they couldn't possibly mistake a cassette attached to a brick.
JT: Had you written "Bricks" then?
LD: That was on the first Peel session - we must have done.
SD: yeah, you're right, so we must have written "Bricks".
FD: [The brick stunt] cost a fortune as well.
LD: It got us noticed, because I think he had actually heard the tape.
JT: Because he's seen the brick?
LD: I think it was a bit of both, he'd seen the gig. I can't remember whether they were simultaneously aware of the tape. We hadn't played a gig, we weren't really intending to until.
FD: We had some good material.
LD: Yeah. And when that John Peel [Roadshow] came along we thought, that's a big enough gig to be worth doing. We just didn't play somebody's 21st birthday party. You know, the usual 'pub in Chorlton' type thing.
JD: The philosophy though it was three things, wasn't it: the democracy was one thing, the discords was another thing, and the other thing was, lyrically.
SD: Simple words.
JD: Simple words, but it was also, because we had a diversity of political viewpoints, we decided only ever to state facts. I guess the best example I can think of with that is 'Neutron Bomb', because we some of us were 'no, we need nuclear bombs as a deterrent' and some of us were, 'no, we should ban the bomb'. So we just said, this song should state, 'isn't it interesting how they work'. Let's just state the facts.
JT: A very scientific approach.
JD: Everybody was happy, yeah.
JT: So, the first gig was the John Peel Roadshow [and] Simon was telling me about [how] the PA failed completely. FD: I remember the Solen Bar, playing at the Solen Bar at University. With Eltifits, doing like a 15-minute set, doing three or four songs, very early on, just to trial, because we trialled Postal Bargains and Animals. Do you not remember that?
SD: I can't remember anything.
FD: I wondered when that defence would come!
JT: You think that might have been before [the John Peel Roadshow]?
FD: I think we had.
LD: What was the Solen Bar again?
FD: The Solen Bar was around the time of the John Peel Roadshow. But I reckon it was a little bit before, a few weeks beforehand. Because Nigel was a big mover and shaker at that time - Nigel Eltifits. I think he put together, because he wanted to showcase his band, Eltifits. He had a good relationship [with us]: 'Oh, if you want to play a few songs.'. I'm sure we did a little 15-minute thing. The reason I remember it is that when we played I thought 'this feels good'. And that's why I think it was the first thing we did.
JD: But Nigel actually organized the John Peel thing. John Peel got in touch with Nigel and he said he would get together a lot of local bands in Manchester.
JT: So, who else was on the bill?
JD: Eltifits were headlining, then there was us.
FD: [Sings] "When they're losing their grip, just a bunch of bullshitters, when they're losing their grip." Don't you remember?
JT: Who was that?
FD: That was Eltifits.
JD: Oh yeah. What was it, a single, yeah?
FD: You guys have got no brain cells.
SD: Who was that band who did that song called "I'm your cat"?
JD: Oh yeah, somebody Mooney? Eddie Mooney was the singer, lead singer and bass player. What was the band called.
SD: I can't remember. That had fantastic lyrics: "I'm your cat and I just crap, in the bath, what a laugh." And then it went, "You never fucking feed me, you say I'm fucking rude."
[Lots of laughter]
JT: So when the PA failed were you panicking? Or did you not know?
LD: I just thought it was the usual crap monitors. You know, because all monitors were crap in those days and just fed back, so, it was only afterwards. We were wondering why the sound sounded very, very weird. And the audience obviously looking a bit restless.
SD: Talking amongst themselves; shuffling round and looking at their shoes.
FD: So I think inadvertently we must have come off as real professionals because we just carried on.
JD: In fact, I think you're right, I think we were complimented for our professionalism even though nobody could hear us at the back and we were all playing different songs!
LD: We were also freaked out because it was a lot of people to play in front of as well.
JT: How many people were there?
LD: We were focused on getting the right note. It just went so quickly as well.
FD: It was three or four hundred people there actually.
LD: It was packed.
JT: Peel could hear what was going on through the monitors?
LD: It was probably a better sound, because stood on stage where we were the monitors were still working. So he probably had certainly a better sound than the audience. I think if he'd been sat out the front he probably wouldn't have.
JT: And then he came up when you came off stage?
LD: No. His producer rang up.
SD: John Walters. He rang my office.
LD: They'd heard the tape as well.
SD: And they wanted us to come down to Maida Vale to do a session. And that was like a dream come true. Fantastic excitement.
JT: Simon, you were working in that office on Kennedy Street. And two of you were postgraduate students.
FD: Yes, Lawrence and I.
JD: I was doing a maths degree.
JT: So what did the other students say to you when they heard you were going to be doing a session for John Peel?
JD: I don't actually remember. I was so excited about it I didn't actually realize what they were saying! I remember when Simon got the call and we all heard and we got together and 'Wooaaooh!' It was incredible.
LD: And then we were blasé by the third session.
JT: Were you surprised how quickly things picked up after that?
LD: Well they didn't, despite John Peel raving about the session, which he did, we were all pleased about that. I mean that's how we ended up with Mike Hinc.
FD: We were struggling to find somebody to pick it up.
LD: We went down to London and we played the ICA.
JD: That was when we had three bass players on stage. Coz I played one number and we stayed with Simon Edwards, and we had all three doing, I think it was the last number, Animals - all three of us.
SD: Did Simon Edwards play? Simon Edwards is with Billy Bragg and the Blokes. Yeah, it's his bassist. He comes from Backwell as well [home of the Pitchers brothers].
JD: We went to the same primary school. And we stayed at his flat when we went down to do the ICA session. By that time I had left the band and Andy had joined. But it was soon after [Andy] had joined, I think it was the first gig, so they let me do a guest stint. And I brought Simon as well: Three basses all playing Animals. Must have sounded dreadful!
JT: Why couldn't you get anyone interested apart from Mike Hinc?
LD: In Manchester at the time, it was very London-centric, Rough Trade, all the record industry. It wasn't like it subsequently became with Factory, there was none of that. It was very low key Factory, they didn't have the prominence that they subsequently had. And Factory weren't really interested. I think we were too quirky for them.
SD: The whole of the Manchester scene was very morose.
LD: Yeah, raincoats, Trilbies.
SD: Gloomy and miserable. Richard Boon [head of New Hormones, who later signed Diagram Brothers] said that he didn't think we had anything to say, when he heard our tape. I remember that really well.
LD: Some of our songs were very political and radical, [other bands] were often just posing about it. No one could hear the lyrics anyway. Who knew, really, what they were saying.
FD: You all encouraged me to sing really clearly.
JD: That was another of our gripes with the traditional American rock bands, you couldn't actually hear the words. Even if you could, you couldn't understand them. I mean, sky blue, blue sky. So we decided to make them very simple things that.
SD: "I tweet, I bite the bars"
SD and JD: "And ding the bell!"
FD: Don't scoff because I can recall all the lyrics to every song at an instant. It's funny because now I'm a classical singer, I have the score in front of me, I get lazy, but in the band, there was no question you could have lyrics in front of you - had to learn it all. I mean the idea that you'd fluff it, it was terrible, you'd be letting the side down - I had to memorize it all. We worked hard actually.
JT: So, Andy, how did you get involved with these guys?
AD: I can't remember.
LD: The Manchester Musicians Collective used to meet at the Cyprus Tavern and we met Andy in the Cyprus Tavern.
AD: I was the long-lost brother, they looked under Diagram in the phone book.
FD: We did that in a few interviews and some people really fell for that, didn't they?
AD: I always get asked 'is Diagram your real name'; I always say yes! They always say that's very unusual, and I say, 'it's a variation of Diagramovski'. An Anglicisation. And they fall for it every time. LD: It was in the Cyprus Tavern the first time, because you had a skinhead.
FD: A fantastic skinhead. And there was a poster of it, there was you and - Sid, was it Sid? All shaven looking. And there was a poster, something about poor kids on the dole or something. This poster had been made up. Do you remember this? It was some kind of political thing that you were involved in. You looked scary, like some kind of hard nut.
JD: God, the tables have completely turned now.
LD: That's why you were a skinhead you told me, because you used to go on the tube and sell the communist paper to skinheads. He was extraordinarily brave.
AD: Yeah, there was a lot of political action in London - Rock against Racism.
LD: Dressing up as a skinhead to convert the skinheads.
JT: What part of London are you from?
AD: I grew up in the middle and I was squatting out West - Southall.
LD: It was like a flat from the Young Ones, it really was. I mean Sid was just.
FD: Sid was fantastic.
SD: Sid was definitely the bloke out of the Young Ones.
FD: Vivian. Crazy guy.
LD: I remember I came in and Sid was throwing up in the kitchen because he's just tried to eat about half a pound of ginger. Coz apparently you can get high off ginger.
LD: No, it was nutmeg, yeah. First time I met Sid was that - he rushed off to throw up.
FD: You were living in Sale at one point.
AD: That was one of the first places I moved to in Manchester.
JT: Why did you come to Manchester?
AD: My girlfriend was here. I was staying in Gorton for a bit, and then Sale.
FD: Oldfield Road wasn't it? A road away from where I was born and raised.
JT: When you met the Diagrams were you already playing with Dislocation Dance?
AD: I don't think I was. But I knew Paul Emerson, the bassist. Because his brother Simon Booth - Working Week - was involved in the whole Scritti Politti scene, which I was involved in. So I knew him through that. Paul was the sort of chairperson of [the MMC]. So when I moved up to Manchester he was the first point of contact. And then he said the Diagram Brothers were looking for a bass player. . Bands didn't really have trumpets. I'd sort of done trumpet at school. I could have gone to music school, but I wasn't interested in the music, I was interested in rock music and politics. It was all going off, all very exciting. And so I played bass.
LD: You're being modest - you played guitar as well, and you also played keyboards.
FD: He's actually a proper musician, unlike the rest of us.
AD: I was classically trained, yes. I was going through the process of ridding myself of that classical training.
SD: But that solo that you did on 'Here come the visitors' in Cargo Studios and you said, oh I've got a really good idea, I'll do a bit of trumpet. And I was saying, oh, just bang on the piano. But actually when you listen to it, it's a proper solo, properly thought out. It's very good
JT: And you went back to Bristol, Jason?
JD: Yeah, I'd sort of committed to my partner at the time that we'd go back to Bristol when I left Uni. So I stuck to that. Big mistake really.
JT: Where the Skodas already going?
JD: No, I formed the Skodas when I got back. Got together with a couple of mates there, and a girl singer, Annie, and we formed the Skodas.
JT: And you got your John Peel Session through the box of chocolates?
JD: Yeah. We took a box of Milk Tray, doctored it, changed the contents. Substituted Montelimar for Skodas cassette. Cut out the plastic thing, put the Skodas cassette in there and then sent it with the message 'listen to the music, eat the chocolates, see which one makes you feel sick first'. And we got a remarkable quick turnaround. That would have been Chris Lycett, I think. He rang us up and said can you do a session.
SD: Did you ever use the surname, Diagram [with the Skodas]?
JD: I don't think I did actually. I remember our first press release: we all just put a load of deliberate mistakes in. So we just deliberately misspelled our surnames and our first names. Because we said the press will probably get it wrong anyway, so we'll start with it wrong. Just random names really. We used to change it each time we put something out. But I don't think I used Jason Diagram on there because when we did the session John Peel walked in and said, oh, what are you doing here. So he hadn't put 2 and 2 together.
JT: So you succeeded on your own merits, not trading on the Diagram name.
JD: The fact he liked chocolates was.The one link there was, the cassette label was the same colour - it was green.
FD: That's because it was cheap Christmas wrapping paper, we printed on wrapping paper - it looked really good.
SD: Yeah, looked really good.
FD: It looked like we'd got a graphic designer to produce wrapping paper.
JT: Did you have any input to the Diagram Brothers conceptually afterwards?
JD: Yeah, I did. Some Marvels of Modern Science, the track Litter - in the middle of that, there's a hysterical laugh. That's me. Actually I thought that was probably the pivotal point of the whole album. Apart from that, no.
JT: Do you think when Andy joined you became more professional, or not?
JD: Definitely, yeah. We were saying earlier how the band wanted to be recording, not gigging. That's how I got in, I had a [tape] recorder.
FD: You had a Revox.
SD: A Revox A77, Mark 3 it was. You've still got it.
JT: Richard Boon initially said you've got nothing to say. Why did he then end up releasing your stuff? SD: I don't know. Does anybody know.
LD: He got to know us. It must have been through the Musicians Collective, because by then you were starting to play with Dislocation Dance. They were interested in them I think.
AD: Maybe, I don't know.
FD: I think by then we were playing some more gigs and he must have come along and thought, 'oh, bit better now'.
AD: I think he got to know us.
FD: Because he was very intense early on.
JT: Intense? In what way?
FD: You know, earnest. He was a graphic designer.
AD: It's probably true to say he didn't get it straight away. Later he was very into it.
FD: That's right. That's probably a good way of expressing it. As Andy said, he kind of got into the language, and after a while he'd sit in on things and say, 'oh you should do this, you should' - and he'd inject words. He'd pick up on what we were trying to do.
JT: And did you take any of those pieces of advice and use them?
FD: Hard to say really.
SD: I can't remember specifically which ones - I'm sure we did. He also had ideas like the Tangram writing on Some Marvels of Modern Science. He introduced us to the idea of a Tangram, these triangles that you put together to form different shapes. And that features on the album.
FD: I think all the time he was constantly chipping in and where we thought they were good ideas we'd incorporate them, especially if it was on the stage. He was very good, he was a very positive influence really.
LD: He was a Situationist. I remember being in a kitchen with Tony Wilson and Richard Boon, chatting, It was quite obvious where the ideas came from (FD: Yeah). Tony Wilson, I don't think he had an original idea. Came from Richard. It's just Richard was crap at business. He was an ideas person, he just believed in doing things. The money side wasn't [important].
SD: I never worked out the money side really with Richard. The one thing I remember about Richard Boon, the best thing was, he would always wear these clothes, they were just so absolutely, brilliantly cool. He was a graphic designer and he knew how to look. For me he was the Manchester equivalent of Vivienne Westwood. He was sort of Mr. Cool Fashion Bloke wasn't he? I can remember he did an interview with The Face magazine. He was telling us about it and he was expecting to be asked all these penetrating political questions and he said, the journalist asked me, she said, you've got a shirt with spots. And you've got a tie with stripes. Yes. She said, why do the stripes go this way and not that way?
JT: Did you used to hang out much at the offices of New Hormones?
FD: Yeah, I was going backwards and forwards all the time.
LD: That was maybe slightly later on, playing with Eric [Random]. I played violin very badly. I think he liked anyone who played anything very badly.
JT: You also played with the Bedlamites [Fraser]?
FD: What happened was we were starting to do these New Hormones gigs and Richard would say, okay, you're going to play with Ludus and the Mudhutters. And I don't remember us ever saying things like, oh, we're not going to do that. It was just like, ok, we'll play whatever. And we became massive fans of Eric. I mean we all thought he was fantastic because he did things like turn all the lights off, go to the back of the stage and turn his back to the audience and just get on playing. And I was just in awe of how somebody had the nerve to do that. And of course loads of people got really pissed off with him and that.
AD: He wasn't playing: he was just playing a tape recorder.
FD: Well he did have looped tapes, didn't he. And as Lawrence says, by hanging out at the office and getting to know them, because I s'pose to them we were all very uncool. Lawrence and I were doing science postgraduate study. Linder was super cool black, gothic. Eric was just a very far out guy. So we were just a bit.
LD: That strange bloke she brought into the office occasionally. We later found out was Morrissey. In the trilby and the long trenchcoat.
FD: So we got to know Eric and then Eric just loved having people play stuff with him.
LD: It was almost a family with New Hormones. I remember playing bass with Dislocation Dance because Paul couldn't make a TV [appearance]. Remember? It was on ITV and I just had to learn a bass line and went on.
FD: Remember when we played with the Mudhutters? They'd be out the front cheering us, and we'd be cheering them. It was all very friendly.
LD: I remember Fraser almost getting killed in, where was it, Northampton. Remember? The electrified PA, with three people in the audience.
FD: I got a really nasty shock to the lips.
LD: That was a disaster of a gig, that, middle of nowhere. I don't know who had booked it but they hadn't advertised it at all, because there were 10 people there in a place as big as this [hotel lobby]. With the PA that was live: I remember Fraser trying to stay away from the mic and just rocking backwards and forwards.
FD: We were quite fortunate though, because we didn't have many gigs where there were only three men and a dog in the audience.
LD: I remember a really good one at the - the 101 Club [in Clapham].
SD: I can remember [it] because we never really did encores, did we. We'd just do 20 minutes and that was it. And this one, we were really being spurred along by the audience, we were getting really excited, seeing the audience surging towards us, preparing ourselves for an encore and then we realised that in fact it was not us, but a couple who were acting rather over-amorously on the steps down to the toilets that everyone was pushing and shouting to look at! Diana [Simon's wife] was in the audience and she can remember it very clearly - she was one of the main surgers!
JT: Andy, how did you fit doing Dislocation Dance, Diagram Brothers and later Pale Fountains as well? Was it difficult?
AD: No, because both Diagram Brothers and Dislocation Dance, all the other people in it had jobs or were students or whatever. And I didn't.
FD: It never occurred to us to think 'oh, you turncoat'. It was just something else Andy did.
AD: I think I was playing trumpet in Dislocation Dance: totally different things.
JT: What do you remember about your recording sessions?
SD: A day to set the drums up. Buying a synthesizer - 400 quid - in London.
FD: Catford. We had to go down to Catford.
SD: It didn't bloody work, it was always out of tune. That was a disaster that was.
FD: I remember doing the John Peel Sessions, the first one was a bit nerve wracking, because it was all like Big Time.
LD: I think that's the best session. The recording of the songs is better than the ones we did on the album. I mean listening to the album, it's the first time I've heard some of the songs in 20 years and the difference between Pluto Studios and Rochdale is really, really noticeable. And I think that's the difference with Maida Vale. I don't know, it was almost like playing live with the John Peel, wasn't it, because you literally had an hour. It had much more of a live feel maybe.
SD: The biggest mistake we ever made, I reckon, was when John Peel invited us out for a curry and we were too busy trying to work out our overdubs and all that. I really, really regret that. We thought it was more important to give him a good product.
JT: He probably admired your professionalism again.
SD: I think he might have felt a bit pissed off with us.
JD: Mine was even worse than that, coz after that when I did the Skodas session he invited us out for a curry and we went but I felt really sick the whole of the meal and I missed the entire meal again. So, it's like twice on the trot.
JT: Reviews of Some Marvels were mixed - Steve Sutherland in the Melody Maker called it 'the most moronically unimaginative record ever made'.
LD: [Sarcastic] Melody Maker had a lot of credibility, didn't it, at that time. One above Jackie I seem to remember.
AD: The music press generally was just so not into New Hormones.
FD: No, they weren't were they?
AD: New Hormones wasn't fashion-led. The music press was: anything that had a fashion thing about it was what sold their papers. I just remember being totally frustrated every week with the music press at the time, so I wasn't surprised at all. And all these London bands that were being invented by record labels were on the front cover.
JT: Which kind of bands?
AD: A whole load of New Romantic bands that played these kind of cocktail bar clubs, dire bands. They were bands that didn't make it - they made it onto the cover of NME and Melody Maker and no one had heard of them. Two or three weeks later [no one had heard of them again]. It was obviously someone's mates promoting these bands.
FD: I just remember we put a lot of effort into it. As you know from listening to the music, it's very tightly orchestrated. And I just thought, well I think it's great, I can't understand why they don't get it. So, I was just nonplussed by anybody who thought it was that bad.
LD: The Manchester scene as well didn't have the power it did later. I even remember, it was after the Diagram Brothers, I did the occasional session mixing at, what was it, Soul Studios? And I mixed one of the Stone Roses. And I didn't know the Stone Roses from Adam. They were completely unknown. I mean we knew people through Eric, he knew A Certain Ratio and all of them. And I did gigs with A Certain Ratio.
AD: But A Certain Ratio are a case in point. They didn't make it.
FD: No, they didn't, and they were really quite pioneering.
AD: Loads of bands that did make it would namecheck 'em.
FD: They started that weird thing of playing in shorts and khakis and they just had this whole funk-rock thing that was great but nobody was into it. Fans were into it, but the press didn't get it at all. They were a fantastic live band, really good to dance to.
JT: The bad reviews didn't get you down?
FD: No, not at all. And Simon was pretty vociferous about it. You were angry.
SD: Well, I would have been, I'm sure. I know if anyone said anything horrible about us I'd hate them, I'd want to kill them.
LD: I think that's it - we weren't a trendy band.
FD: Not at all.
LD: Joy Division were a trendy band - People like that.
FD: And I would talk to the audience at gigs and that wasn't done. I come from a kind of folk tradition, so Lawrence would be tuning his guitar up and I'd just tell a story for two minutes and then we'd go off again. And of course that was very unhip to do anything like that.
JT: Did you ever play at the Beach Club?
FD: Yeah. I've got a tape of that. I've got a fantastic tape of Love Letters at the Beach Club. It was a brilliant recording, really, really good. The Beach Club was fantastic.
JT: What film was playing when you played?
FD: It was Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Ai no corrida - In the realm of the senses - the Japanese film. And there was something else, coz Carole [Fraser's wife] got really freaked out.
LD: What drugs were you on?
FD: That Japanese film was very graphic. I think Carole nearly fainted when she cut the man's willy off.
JT: How would it work, would you watch the film and then watch the band after?
FD: Yeah, it was like a sandwich - film, band, film, band. It just went on for hours.
Even when we weren't playing, coz we only played a couple of times there, I went to virtually all those Beach Clubs. I really liked them. I mean we didn't go as a band necessarily.
AD: Looking back, it was probably the best club night in Manchester at the time.
FD: It was very original. Different. And Clockwork Orange. I remember there was a bit of a frisson coz Clockwork Orange was still banned.
Three cracking banned films.
JT: It seems like there was quite a community spirit between Factory and New Hormones people: you weren't really rivals, you knew each other.
LD: I think that was generally true - we didn't know the Factory bands that well, but through the musicians' collective in the early days, I mean Mick Hucknall's band Frantic Elevators, I remember seeing at the Band on the Wall, they supported us at Leeds University. So you tended to see the same people, like Mick Hucknall was definitely part of the musicians' collective, I remember seeing him down the Cyprus Tavern.
FD: Lots of the guys in the Fall - Mark Smith was always a bit aloof - the guys in the Fall were always down the Cyprus Tavern. And they were nice.
LD: You tended to know - like you went to the Band on the Wall to see a gig and there'd be the same crowd or variations of the same people in the audience.
AD: That's right. No one would clap.
LD: Everyone was just too cool to clap.
FD: I remember also, Graham Massey, we did a few gigs with him - he was the Beach Surgeon. Remember? Graham Massey he had this act called the Beach Surgeon and again Richard promoted it. It was great. You remember he had these two plates of metal, and a Trilby, and he did a song and dance routine.
And we all thought it was fantastic - eccentric stuff. And you couldn't have done that on Factory.
LD: They were into cool.
AD: Factory had a sort of set image.
LD: They did - raincoats and dour and miserable Manchester image.
AD: If you signed with them you had to have their image.
FD: And also you had the Martin Hannett sound put on you as well. That was the whole thing. You had a house style, whereas Richard was more into an eclectic mix. . I haven't listened to these [Diagram Brothers] songs for a long time. I'm amazed. Some of them stand up quite well. Others I think are very dated, but others are not too bad actually.
JT: Which ones do you think stand up best?
FD: I think a song like "Put it in a Bigger Box", I think it still sounds really good, such an original composition. I mean your guitar playing's fantastic on it [Lawrence].
LD: I don't think it's only mine, you're doing yourself.
FD: No, no. Looking back I realize how inventive you are.
LD: I was listening to Franz Ferdinand and a couple of our tracks, "Put it in a Bigger Box" or "Fondue Soiree", that could be a Franz Ferdinand song easily. So, that's almost become mainstream, that slightly discordant [sound]. AD: There were bands that came after us that played our sort of discordant music like Big Flame and the Dog-Faced Hermans.
FD: Yeah, Dog-Faced Hermans.
AD: And they all referenced Diagram Brothers.
AD: But they didn't really get that much attention at all. It's not until recently that music's become popular. I got an email from Greg from Big Flame - I told him we had a new CD coming out and he was so excited and said how he still plays his copy of "We are all Animals".
JD: When I was listening to the album there's loads I still like, particularly "Those men in white coats" and "Neutron Bomb", after I left they are two of my favourite tracks. The thing I was surprised by, I think there's a load of Robert Fripp in there, but I can't remember at the time anyone being particularly into Robert Fripp.
FD: No, I was: Fripp and Eno, No Pussyfooting and all that Frippertronics
LD: Simon was as well.
JD: I really liked him, I really like him now, but I couldn't remember that at that time he was a particular influence.
FD: The thing that I'm struck by listening back to it - it was just so painstakingly crafted. It's no wonder we didn't write an awful lot of material because it just took so long. I mean, you compare - you listen to Andy's stuff [Spaceheads]. In a sense I wish we'd had a bit more courage to do a bit more improvisation. It's really hard to do that kind of music, because I listen to what he's doing now - it's got this fantastic, open ended, it can go where it needs to. And we didn't have that. You listen back and it's very confined in that it sets out to do something in a three-minute song, and that's it. I like listening to a lot more improvisational music these days.
JD: We came on the back of Punk. I don't think we wanted to be doing long solos or anything.
LD: That's it, there was no guitar solos.
FD: But in every song, I remember when we were rehearsing, there were a lot of musical ideas in each song. These days you could take one idea and turn it into a song, which is what people do. You listen to a lot of music and you think this is actually only one idea per song. JT: Dislocation Dance were about 10 years ahead of their time, they should have been huge.
LD: I remember listening to a tape of theirs about 10 years ago, going on a beach holiday. It was a fantastic beach, laid back hippy songs. They should have been huge because they really were mainstream. The Diagram Brothers never were.
JT: Did you never think you might have one hit - novelty - you know?
LD: Yes. You might have imagined "We are all Animals". That one or "Bricks" might have just been picked up as something.
FD: "Oh look, there goes Concorde again!" Where the hell did that come from? Where did it go? But it was great while it lasted.
AD: I know the guy that put that together.
FD: Did you?
AD: Well, I do now.
FD: Tell him it's brilliant, wonderful.
JT: Then with Discordo you started going in a slightly different direction.
LD: Gilbert & Sullivan.
FD: I blame this on Simon actually. Simon suddenly got it into his mind.
LD: Richard was really keen.
FD: Richard! You're right, Richard.
LD: Richard was always chatting about it.Gilbert & Sullivan meets discordance.
FD: Yeah, it was concept driven. But actually I was up for it. I mean we did have a little dance routine. We did that at Band on the Wall. It was something like [demonstrates while singing] La-la, la, la-la-la-la, La-la, la la.
LD: It was really good, because nobody did that: it was really important just to stand still and look serious.
JT: So you were a kind of boy band ahead of time(!)?
AD: I think we were just the Jazz Defektors, or something like that. They sort of were influenced by our Discordo period.
FD: I think the idea was to get away from the very angular guitar sound. So Andy started playing the synth a bit more, because he actually had a bit of talent on that. And the trumpet. And then all of a sudden it seemed obvious to better use our talent. And there was the idea of some more vocal because prior to that really I'd just been chief shouter.
JT: And you can actually sing.
FD: Well so can Lawrence.
LD: I can't.
FD: Lawrence has got a thin voice, in the sense it's not a strong voice, but he's very much in tune. Simon's great at shouting. Andy can sing.
LD: Andy's good. Your one Dislocation Dance biggest hit was with you singing.
JT: Rosemary. Were you singing on that?
AD: Am I singing on that?
FD: Are you? You're as bad as Simon.
JT: That was a hit in Holland, wasn't it? You played sitting on bales on hay on their Top of the Pops.
AD: I remember being the main composer of that and writing the lyrics, but.
FD: The other thing I'd like to mention. When we did that third John Peel Session, I think he really misunderstood that, because he made a few comments on air: "I'm not sure about this chaps". Coz that song Tracey, I think we were a bit postmodern before anyone knew what postmodern was, we were taking the piss out of. We wrote it in full knowing that what we were writing was not acceptable - So, definitely strongly ironic.
LD: I was a bit uncomfortable about that at the time.
FD: Because we knew it might go the wrong way.
AD: I haven't heard it for so many years.
JT: I don't know that song, what was.?
FD: Well, again it's very vocal-orientated.
AD: The Expert, that's the one that stands out.
FD: What's that?
AD: In emails I've got, people talk about The Expert a lot.
FD: yeah, that's a great song actually.
AD: That's the one that really sticks with people. That's the one they reference from that session.
FD: I've got a tape from that session.
AD: I haven't heard it - I haven't got a clue how it goes.
FD: I could sing it for you if you want. [sings] It was all about plumbing - doing the plumbing correctly.
AD: Was there a chorus line?
FD: Yes. [sings] And you had that fantastic synth line - that new synth.
AD: I'd really like to hear it.
LD: So would I.
AD: You singing it, I can vaguely.
LD: The later stuff I actually prefer now listening to it. And at the time I don't think I did. I actually almost thought it was harking back to Postal Bargains, but when I listen to it now it's actually the later - I listened to Discordo, and I hadn't heard it for years, and I had a memory of it not being that great, but I heard it when I got the CD and I thought, God, that's really quite good.
FD: Do you remember 'Hey Dad'? [sings] We all sang on that.
JT: Did you think about doing an operetta?
FD: It was all feeling a lot more vocal orientated.
AD: Somebody said there was five.
FD: Well, we did that throwaway. At the time, anybody doing a Peel Session had to do a version of 'You'll never walk alone'.
FD: And we did a classic Diagram Brothers on it - it was all out of tune, deliberately. All over the place, sounded like it was about to fall apart but it never did.
JT: That sounds good. Was that with the guitars?
FD: Yeah, Lawrence went absolutely nuts on that, because it was pre-licensing.
LD: I remember the songs, but.
FD: Anybody who wants a copy of the tape, I'll make you a copy.
LD: I'll take you up on that.
FD: I'll digitize it, because I've got a digitizing studio.
AD: You've got the Riverside?
FD: I've got the Riverside tapes as well. That was BBC 2.
JT: How did the German version of 'Right Git' come about?
FD: There was a nice bloke who was an English guy living in Cologne or somewhere. And at the time don't forget, by the time we'd done three Peel Sessions, people were sending us singles going, 'oh, can you promote our single' as if we were impresarios or something. I remember we got mailed to New Hormones lots of singles saying 'Diagram Brothers will you please promote our single'.
LD: John Peel was played on the World Service, so people in Holland and northern Germany would listen to John Peel anyway.
FD: And there was this guy who basically said, I'd like, if you can promote our single, I'll get a version of yours released in Germany. All he could afford was to re-record the vocals, and there might have been a touch up on the tracks. And then I think we put Discordo and Postal Bargains [on the reverse]. I never met the guy actually, never met the guy. It's just one of those.
JT: And who did the translation of the lyrics?
FD: He did. He never sent me a tape. So, I played it to guys, because I work with German guys, and they said this is the most bizarre pronunciation of German - it sounds like it's, well, I dunno, it's just very odd.
LD: I thought you'd got a mate to sort of tell you how.
JD: I thought you could speak German.
LD: I'm sure he told us that at the time, that he'd done 'O' level German
JT: Like O level's gonna put you in good stead for colloquial German (!)
JT: How did using all these strange everyday objects as instruments [toasters, etc] come about? Was that Simon?
FD: I think Simon would do percussion, just do percussion, because he brought in his toaster. He had a tobacco tin that he used to play.
LD: Didn't he always attach something to his drum kit?
FD: He had a plastic beater. He wanted to make that a New Hormones product, didn't he? Simon invented this thing that now has become quite standard.
JD: He had very different views on drum sounds, partly influenced by Bill Bruford. Bruford used to have a very sort of ringing - his snare used to make a note. I remember a session, in fact it might have been the first Peel Session, where they were taping down Simon's snare - they were saying 'no, it's still ringing, it's still ringing'. They just put more and more tape on. He was trying to keep this thing, but in our naivete at the time we let them tape it down.
FD: He had this thing, the Perspex disc.
JD: He wanted a bass drum that was sort of crisp, cutting edge, but still had the bass drum. And the way he did that was by using a cork beater and a circle of Perspex actually stuck to the middle of his bass drum. And the beater would hit that so you'd get a click as it hit, as well as the bass drum.
FD: And Richard thought we could do this as a New Hormones product. Richard thought this was a great idea.
AD: He wanted to give everything a catalogue number.
LD: He did, didn't he? That was Org whatever, that product.
JT: So did it get a catalogue number?
FD: I think conceptually it did. I don't think anything ever got put in a box and sold. Conceptually it did.
JT: Factory took that whole giving everything a catalogue number to the nth degree, but I think New Hormones did it first.
FD: I think they probably did.
JT: Because Org 2 was the Linder and John Savage collage [fanzine]. And then the Tiller Boys for a while on posters were credited as Org 3 when they were just playing live.
FD: Richard had some great ideas like that. And as Lawrence says, it's a Situationist approach. The thing itself, the happening, is the product, and we will declare it as such. It's quite interesting really.
JT: When you were recording for the label were you aware of how cash-strapped he was?
FD: Yeah, it was obvious he wasn't a rich guy.
LD: The offices were hardly salubrious. You knew they weren't exactly rolling in it.
FD: I think Richard was so clearly committed to the idea of the creative part of it that actually money hardly got discussed at all.
AD: Yeah, this was like, Thatcherism hadn't fully kicked in, I don't think. The idea that we're in this for the money and the business side wasn't..
FD: I even remember him saying things like 'we've made quite a bit of money on this with you guys, do you mind if I put it back into these other guys?' It was all very much for the good of the thing.
LD: Rough Trade was more commercial, [but] even they weren't - they just ploughed their money back into new bands. They weren't living in mansions.
FD: There was no sense of 'let's try and screw as much money out of everyone', it was all just - we're just doing this while we can, it's creative fun, and Richard was very supportive about the whole creative thing.
JT: It seems now that a lot of bands form and they've got a business plan before they've got their first gig.
AD: Now you can go to college to study it. I mean I teach that actually.
LD: So, it's your fault (!)
AD: I teach the recording side. But the kids of 16-19 on my course learn about the music business - learn how to record, learn about the money.
LD: We were quite sussed about the marketing. I mean all that sending a tape in a brick, that was quite sussed and imaginative. What we weren't good at is probably the connections, networking. And that's where we relied on Richard and Mike Hinc in London, because we didn't have that. But it was very much who you knew, to get gigs and that, it wasn't like you could just do that. There was no way of doing that on your own.
JT: And nowadays with MySpace you can set your self up straight away.
FD: You can end up drowning in mediocrity, can't you?
LD: Well, at least it means they're out there.
JT: Out there being ignored.
AD: Yeah, but it's quite good that you can create little communities.
LD: Marketing is all about word of mouth and it only takes one person to come across something good for it to very rapidly spread.
JT: So, how and why did the band split?
FD: Well, as I recall, we'd come to the end of our time at college. I dunno, I had this sense of destiny: I had to get a job. I was just about to get married.
LD: I think you were always clear that music wasn't what you wanted to do. I think at that time I was still committed to music, but I wasn't that great. Not a proper musician like Andy.
FD: I think Simon was very similar - he felt that we'd done that which we could do. We weren't going to, other than make another album, and New Hormones was winding down.
LD: They were getting into monetary difficulties, and they couldn't afford to release anything more really.
FD: I just had a sense in which I thought.
AD: The music scene was changing. Guitar bands were not.
LD: The New Romantics were all coming in.
FD: Good looking lads.
AD: Student rock really wasn't.
FD: It was the era of crafted bands as well. We met that guy who put together Duran Duran - Malcolm Good Idea Diagram.
JT: Malcolm Garrett?
LD: Did he put together [Duran Duran]?
JT: He did their sleeves.
FD: We met him because some A&R person - We called him Malcolm Good Idea Diagram because he was always saying, 'I've got a great idea, you could do this'. It was somebody from A&M records, a woman, I've still got the letter from her. She came to see us at a gig [and] she arranged for us to meet Malcolm Good Idea Diagram and we just said, 'nah, this isn't going to work'.
JT: So you kind of did have the opportunity to.
FD: Well. But it was that era of - that creative post-punk explosion happened and now all the sharks are moving in so let's try and make money out of this. All the New Romantic bands I thought were just crafted by A&R people.
LD: I remember that Bingley Hall gig, sharing a dressing room with.
AD: Bow Wow Wow.
LD: No, we didn't share with Bow Wow Wow, they were too big. It was a punk band with Rat Scabies - The Damned. I'd always thought they were probably arseholes, but actually they were really nice, they were really nice people. Coz you did come across bands like that who were shits.
FD: I remember playing with bloody Generation X and they were bastards.
LD: They were complete bastards they were.
FD: Really up themselves.
LD: Obnoxious. They were really obnoxious, the most obnoxious people I'd met.
FD: They were horrid.
JT: Andy, why did you decide to keep the Diagram surname?
FD: That is a good question, actually. Is there actually a proper answer to that?
LD: He was signing on. [laughter]
AD: It was a great disguise.
LD: I did a Peel Session as The Florists, remember.
JT: That was a band, or just you?
LD: No, it was a band. It was Stef, wasn't it. It was Mike, I've forgotten his surname.
AD: He's married to Kath from Dislocation Dance - Kathryn Way's husband. A photographer.
LD: But he's a really imaginative songwriter, and a multi-instrumentalist as well. And we morphed then into Macho Men Crack Under Pressure, which I always thought was a brilliant name for a band. And that was getting better actually. But then I think it was around then I decided, I dunno, I think I decided I'd had enough of pretending to be a musician.
FD: My take on it was it was all very amicable. We'd come to the point with the Diagram Brothers where we'd done what we set out to do, New Hormones was winding down, the music scene was changing. As Lawrence says, I wanted to get on and be a scientist. That's what I'd always wanted to do - still do.
JT: Do you think if you'd been really keen to make it you probably could have?
FD: I think we were never under any illusion - I think Lawrence is right: Dislocation Dance were a much better prospect if you wanted to take a gamble on earning a living. I was under no illusion we'd ever earn a living. So for me it was just a creative period and a chance, you know I felt very privileged to have the opportunity to do it and have some great experiences.
JT: How did you get involved with the Pale Fountains, Andy?
AD: They supported Dislocation Dance in Liverpool. And we were just chatting out the back and they said would you like to do a couple of songs with us. So I did, and got on with Mike, and happened to mention Love - I said that's what your stuff sounds like. And that just blew them away because I'd got it spot on. And then we went on tour and eventually fell in love.
JT: I read somewhere that Tim Booth used to come and watch Dislocation Dance and the first time he mentioned the name James was in the back of your van coming back from some gig.
AD: We gave him and Jim a lift back from, I think it was Leeds, they'd come up to see Orange Juice - we were supporting Orange Juice. They gave us a lift back and they mentioned they were in this band James. And we just thought that was a really funny name for a band, and it just stuck with us, in the mind.
LD: I remember them coming up to the New Hormones offices with a tape. And I remember Richard's comment. That was it, Richard had this list of 'this tape sounds like. pre-printed - and it was like: Orange Juice, Joy Division. Because most tapes that were sent in sounded like [other bands]. And I'm sure that James at that time fell into the Orange Juice [pile].
JT: Joe Cohen, the sax player with the Decorators said Richard used to play tapes on the Ansaphone and he said, if it sounds good on the Ansaphone.
LD: He did, he did. Coz he'd often play them in the office when a few of us were still there. And he'd often say what do you think of this. Oh it sounds like. He was quite democratic even in his disdain.
JT: I heard that Morrissey used to bring in tapes of his poetry.
LD: I don't remember that. I do remember him coming up to the office with Linder. I didn't know he was Morrissey then. I remember him being in the office once and he was dead quiet and sitting there with a Trilby on.
JT: What made New Hormones special for you?
FD: It was like a pleasant dysfunctional family. People made an effort to get on even if they didn't like each other.
LD: It was like a family. You know you used to have chats in the office, and even though Eric knew our music was nothing like his. I think Linder and Ian were the only ones who stayed a bit out of that, you know aloof from the rest. But Eric wasn't bothered. He would have happily said he didn't like our music, but it didn't stop him chatting about it, or being supportive, because he just thought it was good to be doing stuff.
FD: Richard was really a vital glue conceptually for everybody. I think from him came that sense of it's a creative house and I support you in your creative stuff. And I think everybody understood that's what he was doing and so.
LD: Yeah, he was good with that. I thought Pete became involved as well, where did Pete-
FD: What, Pete Wright?
LD: When did he come along?
AD: He was the manager of Dislocation Dance. He was there from the beginning.
FD: He was quite an acerbic character at times. I mean he got stuff done, but he definitely rubbed quite a few people up the wrong way I think. He was a bit sneering about stuff.
LD: He was. He hated our stuff.
FD: Yeah, he hated us.
LD: And the more he ingratiated himself with Richard, the more our stuff got marginalised. That was my sense.
JT: Who do you think today has been influenced by the Diagram Brothers? There's a group called the Fratellis who've stolen your surname idea.
FD: I think we were one of the first bands to do that. And we used to vehemently pursue that. Coz whenever anybody would ask 'what's your real name?' we'd say Diagram.
LD: There was loads of brothers' bands, but nobody with a name like Diagram who weren't brothers. I think we were the first to do that.
JT: Did you think about wearing the same clothes?
FD: No, no. There was never a kind of uniform.
LD: We did have those shirts made - remember? We had - what was her name, Sian Perry - all hand made.
FD: Was it the Mondrian motif?
LD: Mondrian motif. I think I was the only one stupid enough to wear the shirt.
FD: I think you were actually.
LD: We definitely had them made.
JT: So you were going to have a uniform?
LD: It wasn't a uniform, it was more someone Paul knew and we just thought it might be nice to.
FD: Have a shot at it.
LD: Yeah, I don't think it got any further than that really.
FD: I think it would be really pompous to assume that anybody was influenced by us, but that zeitgeist sound - noisy, discordant stuff. I'm amazed how acceptable it is now. It's worked its way through and it's no longer.
LD: I'm actually amazed even working in Glasgow in museums and I've come across people who say - Diagram Brothers? I remember them.
JT: Andy, what did you take from your time with the Diagram Brothers into the rest of your career?
AD: Well, the name.
JT: Apart from that - what did you learn?
AD: [long silence]
FD: Come on, say something positive for God's sake.
LD: Even if it's just made up.
FD: Do it to make us feel better. Buddy, throw us a bone!
AD: It was the first professional, real band I was in. It became the yardstick by which everything else was measured.
FD: We did take it all pretty seriously and put a lot of effort into it.
LD: From Pluto Studios seeming very new and different, it became blasé after that. That became the norm.
AD: Did we do night sessions?
FD: That Eric Random and the Bedlamites [Bolero], that was a punishing session. Because I remember going to sleep under the bloody table and somebody waking me up at 4.30 in the morning.
AD: That was up at Cargo. It was Eric's concept to do Bolero. I don't know whose concept it was to do this tape loop. Ian Runacres played the Bolero beat on a snare drum, they recorded it and cut it on a piece of tape and had it running it off a tape spool and around a mic stand to get the tension right.
JT: If only Torvill and Dean had used that version.
FD: It is a good version. I think that Eastern Promise track's really good as well. Eric's first album, That's What I Like About Me, is still one of my all-time favourites. I really, really like it. When I get to know people and they ask me about all this crazy music I've got, there's a few pieces I'll hang on to and if they like it I know they're okay. One of them is Trout Mask Replica because I hardly know anybody who likes that, actually.
JT: Everybody has it and no one plays it.
FD: But I do, I love it. And one of them is that Eric Random album. Because I don't know anybody who really likes that: I love it. You used to take the piss out of me [Lawrence] because I used to hang on to everything - I've got flattened paper cups from every session we did at the BBC. And you used to say oh I don't know why you bother with this.
LD: And I'm a curator - what's the irony in that?
FD: So I kept everything - I've got bus tickets from Maida Vale. I knew that one day it would be a part of my life that I'd want to try and remember in detail. I've got tapes up the Wazoo. I've got rehearsal tapes of the Diagram Brothers, I've got tapes of us arguing, all kinds of stuff, coz I just kept it all.
AD: We ought to book a session at your house to transfer it all.
LD: His 50th - when's your fiftieth?
FD: July 24th.
HT: Do you think that ought to be the occasion for a Diagram Brothers concert?
FD: The thing is, if it was G, C, F and D, maybe. But the chords we played were just impossible.
LD: I'd have to spend weeks trying to work out.
FD: Simon would shape our hands and he'd say ' do that. Come on play it faster now.'
AD: There must be muscle memory there somewhere.
LD: It certainly improved your guitar technique no end.
FD: I like the idea that the Mudhutters have a summer bash. It wouldn't be hard to remember how to at least play "Animals".
AD: "Animals" and "Bricks" or something
FD: Just two songs, that'd be great. Beyond anything more than that.
LD: "Fondue Soiree".
JT: You should do "The Expert".
FD: Good song that.
AD: They're all quite complicated.
LD: They are, aren't they? That's probably why I like them more.
AD: I can remember "Animals" and "Bricks". I can remember where the fingers go.
FD: "Animals" is very simple - it IS the bassline.
JD: I picked up the bass before I came up here and I could not remember how to do "Animals" - I could remember "Bricks".
JT: I'm just calling Eric Random.That's weird - it says there's an error in connection.
AD: Well it wouldn't be Eric if there wasn't an error in connection. You've got to go through some sort of special satellite phone to get to him.