'90s - Department S (2013)
'I Still Want - The Eddie Roxy Story'
Department S are a British post punk band formed in 1980, who took their stage name from the 1960s UK TV series Department S. They are best known for their debut single, 'Is Vic There?,' which was originally released in December 1980 and reached #22 on the UK Singles Chart the following year.
Department S evolved from a previous punk/ska combo, Guns For Hire, fronted by Vaughn Toulouse. Mike Herbage joined them on guitar and wrote Guns For Hire's only single - 'I'm Gonna Rough My Girlfriend's Boyfriend Up Tonight' - which emerged on the Korova record label. The group then became Department S, with the addition of Eddie Roxy (later replaced by Mark Taylor) and Stuart Mizon.
Sadly, the band broke up a year later, down the years front man Toulouse passed away, but in February 2007 they reformed with Eddie Roxy on lead vocals. And after extensive touring, a new full-length album - Mr Nutley's Strange Delusionarium (2011) - and an even newer album on the way this year - The Constructivists Nightmare - it seems Department S are back!
Chatting with one-time original keyboardist, now lead singer Eddie Roxy, I first wondered when had Anthony Edward Lloyd-Barnes
actually become Eddie Roxy, and why? "In 1977 every punk had a punk name. Vicious, Strummer, Rotten, etc. I had the name of the Roxy Club (London's equivalent to CBGB's) on the back of my leather jacket and people just called me Eddie Roxy."
You were only in Department S for 1980 before being replaced by Mark Taylor the following year. Why was your stay only 12 months (or less) long? "I joined at the very beginning of Department S when we also had Bananarama as our backing singers! Truth be told I was a rubbish keyboard player and had always been the singer in previous bands. So I left to form Dream Sequence, an '80's electro band we had a hit in Europe with a track called 'Outside Looking In'."
I'm assuming you played on the debut single 'I'm Gonna Rough My
Girlfriend's Boyfriend Up Tonight,' but did you get to play on the #22
chart hit 'Is Vic There,' perhaps? "I was the man playing the synth on 'Vic,' yes. We recorded it in Nick Lowe's studio. Sounds grand, but it was built into the front room of his
house, a brownstone in central London. The producers were Watts and
Buffin from Mott The Hoople which was a real honour to work with as they
were our heroes."
'Is Vic There? - Live on TOTP!
So, what was it like being a bunch of kids messing around to suddenly being on TOTP with 'Is Vic There?'? "Like many bands it was a case of things happened and being so young and so arrogant you just accepted it as the norm. Nowadays we really appreciate it more. Last summer we played at Benicassim in Spain alongside Bob Dylan, Noel Gallagher and The Stone Roses ... at which point you think, Wow this is great!"
From what I've read, Guns for Hire was just a spoof band printed on
pin button badges that turned into the guys actually recording records and
playing live. All this just as the punk rock scene was waning. A case of
right place (just about) the right time, perhaps? "Yep, that was them. It was all about Vaughn's desire to make it in the music business. People would see Mike Herbage (Department S guitarist
and leader) wearing a GfH badge and tell him how great they were and
that they had seen them play ... before they ever did a gig!"
Could that still happen today, perhaps? "Yeah, I think it could still happen. In fact, in this modern world of electronic social media I think it would be easier to do!"
Department S, for want of a better term self-imploded and dissolved
late in 1981 after having released 'I Want.' Thusly it's been said the
success of 'Is Vic There?' and the fact that Paul Weller voted
Department S as the best new act, best songwriters, etc. actually all
led to the demise of the band! Thoughts ...? "Paul was a big fan and a great help. We played with The Jam on a number of occasions, but I think Department S stood up very much on their own two feet. We had nothing to do with the UK's 1960's Mod revival that The Jam were spearheading, but sat in the post punk indy world of Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs, etc."
"Looking back on it I would say the demise of the band was due to STIFF Records. Unfortunately, they were about to fold and didn't have the focus on getting the LP into the market. So, not being able to follow three singles with an album was a fatal flaw which killed the momentum."
The debut album, Sub-Stance was fully recorded and never released at the time, but finally came out in 1993. Sadly, by then, Vaughn Toulouse had
passed away. Have you yourself ever listened to it? "Yes I do listen to it, and it's a great piece of work. We have just been asked to re-release it on vinyl which will hopefully happen later this year."
Oh, and just who the hell was Vic anyway?! "Vic was a line from a Monty Python sketch!"
Moving on and the new version of Department S came to be in 2007 with
you on lead vocals and keyboards and a whole host of studio musicians
and special guests. So, today, with the release of Mr. Nutley's Strange
Delusionarium (2011) and a new studio album of brand new material on The
Constructivists Nightmare, which guys are the more permanent members of
Department S? "Core of the band are Mike Herbage (guitar) Stuart Mizon (drums) Mark Taylor (bass) and Sam Burnett (guitar) along with myself on vocals, but no keyboards! All except Sam were in the bands early line-up. Today's version of Department S truly reflects the indy rock heart of the band. When recording we have been very lucky to have people like Marco Pirroni (Adam & the Ants), Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols) and Mark Bedford (Madness) contribute."
And wow, what titles for albums! So, where do both of those
wonderfully-inventive titles mentioned above originate? "From the minds of fools!! Mr Nutley's Strange Delusionarium was my
idea as we wanted to record what we sounded like now. So we went into the
studio and recorded it "live" in the way that The Beatles and The Stones
did their original recordings. So it was a live album which wasn't really
a live album, if you see what I mean."
"Herbage came up with The Constructivist's Nightmare from the top of his head as I was pushing him for a name. I wanted to call it The Trojan Tanker which is the second episode of the British TV show from which we take our name."
For Mr. Nutley's it had been termed as the return of the post-punk
legends. So, what will be the phrase coined for the release of The
Constructivists Nightmare, dare we ask? "Mmmmmm ... not really thought of that ... now you've got me thinking!!"
When can we expect to see the new album in the stores and what can
you honestly say has been the most inspirational part of its creation
thus far? "Hopefully by the fall. It's been great getting back into the studio and watching the creativity of our guitarists. We have been very lucky to have two lead guitar players that just bounce off each other the whole time. Normally you would expect egos to get in the way, but Sam and Mike enjoy pushing each other further up the scale."
You've been touring with such bands as Sham 69, UK Subs and friends
of mine re: Ed Tenpole and the lovely Hazel O'Connor. What's it like
playing shows with all these guys 30 years on? The stories told
backstage must be incredible?! "We've played alongside some great bands over the last few years, but you would be amazed how little we see of each other at these events! Herbage was really pleased to meet Sylvain Sylvain and Echo and the Bunnymen's Will Sergeant though. It's a guitar thing they love talking about heads 'n pick-ups!!!"
Have you ever considered getting some guys together to tour the US,
perhaps? I mean, we get the '80s bands all the time together, so why not
all the above mentioned bands and more? "We would love to play in the US. It's always been an ambition of ours. Just happened that we sold most of our records in Europe. Anyone who wants to put us on you can contact us through our website.": www.Dept-S.com
Looking back, what's been one of your greatest regrets when thinking
about Department S? "When we got back together we all felt we had unfinished business. We started out looking to be a rock 'n roll band in the tradition of The Faces, Mott the Hoople and The Stooges. That is guys who were doing it because it was fun and how gave people a good time rather than just chasing fame. Had the band have stuck together then we all feel that would have been achievable. Luckily we have been able to take up the quest again and show people that there is a lot more to Department S than 'IS VIC THERE?' It's really rewarding when people come up to you afterwards and tell you how much they enjoyed the show."
And, conversely, what is still your greatest Department S memory? "Playing Sinner's Day Festival in Belgium as our second comeback gig. We were on at 2.00pm so didn't expect many people to be around. But we walked out to a full house of 4,000 people and it was being filmed live on TV! We had all been doing "proper" jobs after dropping out of the music business so it was a jolt to see so many people and to have cameras in your face. Now we have got more used to it having done a few festivals each year and there are usually two or three cameras filming the gig."
Tell us about the live film that is due out soon "It was filmed last year at the 100 Club in London. Just putting the final touches to editing it. Strangely I have yet to see it. Thinking about it I suppose it needs a name!"
Finally, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, we here at
Exclusive Magazine love Penguins (the birds) - do you have any love for
them, or personal stories, perhaps?! "I think penguins get too much good PR! Personally I don't think they mate for life! Come on, they all look the same so who would know if they went back to the same one or not?!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED CD from Department S, just answer this question: In 1981, who did Paul Weller call the best guitarist of his generation?
Send us your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win an AUTOGRAPHED Department S CD! Just send us an e:mail here before September 1st with your answer and the subject title CONTEST: SIGNED DEPARTMENT S CDs to: email@example.com