Interview with Martin Carr of The Boo Radleys

The Boo Radleys were signed to Creation for most of the 90′s and in 1993 released one of the most critically acclaimed albums on the label with ‘Giant Steps’ which was voted ‘album of the year’ in many music papers.

Martin Carr played guitar for the band and in the mid-90′s was considered one of the UK’s best songwriters. Throughout the decade he wrote songs with a wide range of styles drawing influences from My Bloody Valentine to The Beach Boys. In 1995 the band had the most played song on UK radio with their top 10 hit ‘Wake Up Boo!’

Since the band split in 1999 Martin has been performing as Brave Captain and last year released the ‘Advertisements for Myself’ album on Wichita. We caught up with Martin to ask him about his time with the label and the Boo Radleys.

Coming from Liverpool and being born at the end of the Beatles-era, did music play a large part in your childhood?

Yeah, of course. We never could afford a record player until my nan gave us hers but me dad always had the radio on. I remember ‘Maggie May’ being out when I was a little kid and ‘Billy Don’t Be A Hero’, stuff like that. And Top Of The Pops was always on. Later my Dad would play Queen and E.L.O and the Stones. I went through his records when I was about fourteen and stuck on ‘Times They are A Changin”, hardly a day has gone by since when I haven’t played some Dylan. Because this was Liverpool the Beatles were everywhere, they used to have a Beatles hour every week on Radio City, I used to tape that and play it until me mum would go mental.

So when did you start writing songs and playing the guitar?

Sice and I got guitars for Christmas in 1982, they were thirty quid each I think, we pestered our parents for weeks until they gave in. They were Kay guitars, real planks. Sice got a little amp with his. He came round to our house and we did a photo session in our Beatle boots and black drainies, then we discovered you had to learn how to play ‘em and they went into the wardrobe for about three years. I was taught by a few people, I was really slow. My first song was in 3/4 which is quite odd. I can usually remember what it was called but it escapes me. Sice would know, he’s got a better memory than me.

How did you meet the other lads from the Boo Radleys?

I knew Sice since I was in primary school. We became best mates when we were about ten or eleven, that would be the late seventies.

Tim was a mate of Sice’s. I got to know him when we were around fifteen, he could play guitar and piano so he was definitely someone worth knowing. He was in other bands but we talked him into playing some bass for us and once we got him we never let him go.

Bobby we met through a band called Dr Phibes And The House Of Wax Equations in Liverpool. We needed a drummer and they said he was the best. We used to rehearse on his bed in the squat he lived in on Seel Street in Liverpool.

Did you name yourselves after the Boo Radleys in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and if so, why?

We did. We just thought it was a cool name, well, I didn’t but we couldn’t think of anything else. It was the one book we did in school that had any lasting impression on me.

Did you write all the songs in the band from the beginning?

When I first wrote a song that set me and Sice off, he would come round to my house, this would be 85/86, and we would go into different rooms and write and then play the songs we’d written to each other. After a while I think we would prepare them earlier, before he came round. We wrote some really funny, terrible songs and a couple of really good ones. His were a lot better than mine, they always sounded like proper songs. Mine were always a bit strange. When I got into Dinosaur Jr and My Bloody Valentine I started writing shit loads of songs and he took a back seat. I don’t think it was something we ever discussed.

The Boo Radleys sound always evolved between each album, was this always a natural progression or did you ever decide on the theme/sound of an album before you started writing?

It was a natural progression but also a very conscious one. I never wanted our albums to sound the same. I never wanted to do what people with lesser imaginations thought that we would, or should, do. So Giant Steps was a step away from the MBV sound into using more instruments and less conventional arrangements. Wake Up was a stab at pop which we loved although there were only about three or four of those ‘It’s Lulu’ (i really hate that song) type songs on it. Apart from those tunes you would have to be deaf or an idiot to think that the album was similar to what other bands were doing at the time. C’mon Kids was us trying to get back to just being the four of us, no outside musicians. A more dense sound. I’ve no idea what Kingsize was, I’d had enough then. That album probably had the least preparation out of all them.

You started off being seen as a shoegazing band, looking back now did you enjoy that era? Some great bands came out of it.

I hated the term, I hated all of those terms and would have nothing to do with them. It would be an insult to lump MBV in with our generation of bands, who were pretty much MBV copyists. None of those bands, ourselves included, were a tenth as original as the Valentines. My Bloody Valentine and Ride in the same sentence makes me laugh until milk comes out me nose. I liked Ride up until the first album then lost interest, I like pop music. I loved Swervedriver, I thought they were one of the best bands on Creation.

What was going on with Sice’s hair around then (i’m referring to his mullet!)?

He was just mustering up the bottle to shave it off. Once it’s gone it’s gone and it never had much of an innings. He was still cooler that anyone else I knew. It’s only fucking hair.

So how did the deal with Creation come about?

This is really hazy for me. We recorded ‘Everything’s Alright Forever’ for Rough Trade who either didn’t want it or couldn’t afford to put it out. Our manager at the time also managed Slowdive and he had a word with either Dick or Alan at Creation and they took us on.

And within a couple of years you were pretty much the biggest band on the label with Giant Steps, what particular memories do you have of that era?

I remember thinking that it was our last chance, that we had to stick everything we knew on to that record. It came out, got some good reviews and then died down until the Christmas polls and everything went mad. It was a great time, we always seemed to be on tour.

It was NME and Select’s album of the year in 1993 if my memory is correct, was that a surprise?

No because it was fucking ace.

You had Ed Ball helping out on that tour playing keyboards? Were you good mates?

We knew each other but weren’t that close until he joined and then we became really close. I loved him like an older brother and I still think of him often.

NME were saying at the time you were the new Brian Wilson, was it always your aspiration to be seen as a Brian Wilson style songwriter?

Not really, I hadn’t got into the Beach Boys until just before the Giant Steps period. I think it was Moose who gave us a copy of Pet Sounds and after that we were hooked. I admired his songs but I only ever wanted to be me.

Then Oasis happened, how did that make you feel?

I loved them for the first couple of albums and I had a great time hanging out with them whenever I could. I really liked Noel and loved his songs. We started having hits around the same time aswell except we stopped after around two. I have wonderful memories of them but you move on, there’s always a bit of surprise when I hear they have a record out, like, ‘Wow, they’re still going?’, it seems so long ago.

Did the mood at Creation change then?

Yes, everything was a bit more high powered, we thought that the eyes of the world were on us (the label I mean). It felt like we were creating bits of history and there was magic in the Primrose Hill air.

And what about the labels attitude towards the Boo Radleys?

I don’t recall any noticeable difference, we were doing well ourselves so everyone was still keen. Obviously Oasis overshadowed everything but that was cool, y’know? We were young and were doing what we loved and that’s what it’s all about.

Your first single after Giant Steps, the ‘Wake Up Boo’ single was obviously massive. Looking back on the summer of 1995 how was the mood within the band (particularly towards you’re new found fame)?

We were having the time of our lives I think. We were very busy, I remember staying at a hotel in Pimlico for days doing interviews twelve hours a day. My last album came out six months ago and I’ve only ever done one interview for it. The fame thing was barely noticeable, we were never hounded by the press or anything like that. We were never interested in going to Stringfellows or meeting thick models. We had our own things, our little worlds where we were still just us, and sometimes, each other. I’m proud of that record, we loved pop music and that’s what it is. It’ll be remembered long after most of those records are dead. It’s never off the jukey at the Queen Vic (pub in popular UK soap opera Easterenders).

C’mon Kids was your follow-up album, do you think there was a pressure to come up with another big hit single for the album?

I think there must have been and, at first, it looked like Whats In The Box? would be a hit but it never happened. I think you have to want it to happen more than anything else and with all the records up ’til ‘Wake Up Boo’ we did but after that we never had what it took to sustain that because we didn’t care because we had already done it. We probably started breaking up the day ‘Wake Up Boo’ charted. We were interested in other things and money was never a huge motivator for us even though that’s all people used to talk about at the time.

Kingsize is seen by many people as your best album yet was completely ignored, do you still listen to it now?

I have listened to it recently because there are a couple of tunes from it I am thinking of doing, yeah, it’s pretty good. Everyone had given up on us by then, we were trying to create music but in the end the wallet will always win.

So how did the band come to an end?

I said it was over. So it was.

Do you all still stay in touch?

We try, everyone has to work real hard now and Sice and Tim have families and things aren’t as easy as they were but that’s life. I would love for the four of us to have a drink together but it’s been nearly five years since that happened. That makes me sad.

These days you’re in Brave Captain, tell me about that?

Well, it’s just me and my shadow and I’ve released three albums on Mark and Dick’s label, Wichita, and a couple of singles. I have toured when I could afford it and I wish I could do more but the interest just isn’t there.

You’re still releasing records with Dick Green on his Wichita label. How does that compare to Creation?

It’s completely different. Creation was a physical place where you could hang out and see stuff happening. Wichita is at the end of two phonelines and I am grateful to them that there is always a gentle voice and a kind word at the other end of them both.

You’ve done some remixes for the Super Furry Animals, how did that come about?

They are my friends, I think they are great and they know I am cheap. It’s a system that works.

You seem really involved with technology, running your own website and using laptop’s on stage, what can we expect in the future?

I don’t run my own website. My friend Steve does that and I owe him much. I got bored of guitars and I don’t hear any bands who could change my mind about that.

Last year the Electric Soft Parade had a lot of success with their first album. In interviews and at the Mercury awards they were saying that the Boo Radleys were/are their main influence. That must have felt pretty good?

I didn’t know about. Are you suggesting I watch award shows? Gimme a break. My sister told me they were big fans and I was chuffed that they did well. I went to see them in Newport last year they were pretty good. I don’t think they sound anything like us. I would be disappointed if they did. It’s nice that they mention us, I know a few bands who tell me privately that they were influenced by something or other that we did but when it comes to interviews will pass over us for references that are within the current parameters of cool culture. Don’t blame ‘em.

Have you listened to their album?

Yes a couple of times, it was ok. Good tunes. They are so young and the path is long, they have all the time in the world to make great records if they’re given the chance.

Does it annoy you that the press love a band like Electric Soft Parade at the moment who are virtually a Boo’s tribute band yet they gave you a hard time in the end?

No because I don’t read the press. The world of music papers and gigs and bands is not one in which I walk.

Finally, do you have a message for the kids today?

Be good to one another. Go with yourself. x

Interview 2002