Arnold have reformed after nearly 10 years away. The London 4-piece are working on new material & unearthing previously unreleased work. We caught up with Mark Saxby of the band to talk about the old Creation days, what’s been happening since and their future plans.
It’s great to have Arnold back. How have you been?
Well I haven’t made a lot of money but I’m very happy and I love life.
It’s been nearly a decade since we last heard from you; what prompted the decision to get the band back together?
The drummer Dave Hill put together a film about us and when I saw it I thought the songs sounded great—-I hadn’t listened to them for a long time. Then a couple of promoters got in touch saying they wanted to work with the band—I hope they know what they’re letting themselves in for. Bands can be right bastards.
If we can go back to the beginning, how did you first get into music?
My sister’s record collection. “Through the Past Darkly” which was a Rolling Stones compilation. I played it over and over. And “Fire and Water” by Free—-they had a guitarist called Paul Kossoff who would bend a note and make it wobble—”Ah” I said, “That’s what I want to do”. I started to go and watch Dr Feelgood with the original line-up. Wilko Johnson played a black Telecaster so I worked a whole summer in a warehouse and bought one. Six months later I did my first gig.
Were you fans of Creation before signing with the label?
We all liked Screamadelica. And our old singer Rob [from Patio] loved Teenage Fanclub—-he’d lie on his front with his head between two speakers blasting them out with a look of bliss on his handsome face. But I don’t think we were that aware of Creation until we signed to them. Only then did we get an idea that it was classy in the way Atlantic or Island Records were. I suppose looking back we knew next to nothing about the indie scene.
Did Creation influence Arnold’s sound?
Well they did, largely by giving us the freedom to make it sound like we wanted. Looking back it was a huge privilege to be given not inconsiderable sums of money and left to get on with it. No calls from A and R men telling you the vocals were too quiet or forcing you to go with a particular producer. One idiot on the Columbia Records side of things said The Barn Tapes were “Sonically unacceptable for the States” as if Americans had more sensitive ears—but Creation let us do what we wanted. In retrospect it might have been wise for someone to suggest we go and write a single.
How did you first become involved with the label?
Des Penny went to see Alan McGee with a tape of a band called South. As he left the underwhelmed meeting Des gave Alan an Arnold demo. Alan and Dick Green came to see us rehearse—I don’t think they were that impressed but Des squeezed £1000 out of them to make a decent demo. With the cash we rented a barn down in Kent, loaded up Boo’s van with the dog and recording gear and went down to the country to get shit-faced.
How were those sessions?
We were there for two glorious weeks in June. Barbies, booze, sun, various other bits and pieces, recording all night, Marshall cab in the shower-room, arguments, Payney trying to tame the local horses, occasional visits from friends and lovers. Lucky to survive it really. Our own personal Nellcote. Dropped the tape off at Creation. Heard nothing for a good few weeks, then over a couple of days loads of phonecalls from Alan McGee.
What were your expectations given that Creation was the biggest label in the country?
We’d been so broke for so long it was nice just to be able to to buy some groceries. And it was great meeting lots of new people. From my own point of view I was happy to be able to play and write knowing someone was going to listen, knowing it would get released. I just wanted that to last.
1998 brought some mainstream success with the Hillside Album, including a tv appearance on The Big Breakfast at Reading Festival. What were the highlights for you?
The highlights had to be the American trips. We toured there a lot. Imagine six weeks on a big old chrome tourbus with two lounges, criss-crossing the USA and Canada – Newport festival, dancing with Joan Baez, the Staples family singing The Weight. Those trips were everything you ever dreamed being in a band could be.
After Creation folded you moved to Poptones; how did it compare.
It wasn’t as much fun. There was no sense that this could all go huge. I made my self fairly ill producing and mixing Bahama – in fact that album was the best thing to come out of the Poptones experience. Again I enjoyed meeting new people like Ed Ball and working with Suzy Ember. But all in all fairly dispiriting.
Do you still keep in touch with Alan and Dick today?
I bumped into Alan McGee recently at his club in Brixton and had a nice chat. When we were on Creation he was on the wagon and I remember him saying he wished he could have gone down the pub and got to know us better. Mind you it might have killed us all! So I never knew him that well—just found him straightforward and with the good taste to give us two record deals. I sent Dick Green a demo some years back—-I think it might have been a bit rough looking back—and I never heard from him.
We last heard of Arnold with a self-titled 5 trackcd for Luckie Pierre in 2002. What happened to the band members after that?
Phil Morris has been concentrating on his charitable work. Phil Payne started having kids. Dave couldn’t keep his fingers out of the corporate till and has been in and out of Ford Open Prison for various white-collar crimes. Rob Ariss runs an ironmongers in Dover.
I’m in Little Massive with Rob. We’ve made two albums and an EP. We’ve never gigged it but recently formed a band called Bay of Pigs which plays live—-it’s the best band I’ve ever played in. I’ve also been playing guitar with X-Ray Spex and the legendary Polly Styrene.
Are there any plans to re-release the Creation albums. Maybe a Best Of?
Well I’ve been comping a cd of unreleased stuff—-there’s more than forty songs there and a lot of it sounds marvellous. So I think a new album is on the cards. Maybe we’ll do some acoustic gigs. But we’ll take it one step at a time—-bands are difficult things to keep together. This band split up eight year’s ago for lots of reasons and most of those reasons are probably still there—–but as long as it’s fun then I’ll give it a go. After all, this lot are some of my best friends.