Punch-ups and duff record labels failed to stop The Jags
Take an alarming succession of drummers, and an even more frightening line of producers, add the fact that most people dismiss them as another Costello sound-alike, and you probably have the best recipe for failure.
Wrong. The Jags know exactly what they are doing, which has contributed to the many setbacks they’ve experienced since they were formed in early 1978.
“Because we’ve always had this clear idea of what we want to sound like and what we want to do it’s led to innumerable clashes,” says singer Nick Watkinson. “Most of the producers we’ve dealt with have had no idea of what we’re trying to achieve and instead have tried to force their ideas on us. They weren’t prepared to collaborate.
Even the single ‘Back Of My Hand’ went through several drastic changes as we switched producer. We’ve got four versions of that on tape and you can barely recognise it as the same song,” he added with more than a hint of distaste. “The actual single doesn’t even sound the way I wanted it, but it had taken so long already that we just put it out.”
However, now that Andy Summers of the Police has agreed to produce the next EP, that problem will soon be rectified. “Andy understands us perfectly and is constantly coming up with fresh ideas and inspiration.”
So, after some 18 months the Jags look as though they’re going to pass GO, but they weren’t joking when they talked about personality clashes. A typical example is a gig way back in February when Chris Blackwell of Island Records flew from his home in Nassau to see the band he’d just signed.
You’d think the implications would make any band eager to do their best, but it didn’t prevent the drummer pushing over his kit in a fit of rage before biffing Nick and knocking him off stage. An event which made the rest of the band think they’d blown it completely – but luckily it was overlooked and the drummer retired the next day.
Several more drummers have come between that one and Alex Baird, “who has been the only one to fit in straight away”. To say he has had a wide and varied career would be an understatement.
The fact that he was once with the medieval folk group, Gryphon, should cause some raised eyebrows. Still, a brief word about his early career won’t go amiss. After drumming with the Glasgow band Stumble which also boasted Midge Ure (pre Salvation, pre Rich Kids, pre Thin Lizzy, pre Ultravox), Alex joined Contraband, which won the Melody Maker talent competition, resulting in a contract with Transatlantic Records.
“They flew us down to London, found us a flat, and that was that.” Alex said, warming up to a good old slag (most of which is deleted as it is rather repetitive). “No promotion, no constructive advice, nothing. A total waste of time.
“Mind you, I’m still in the same flat, which is pretty good at that,” he reflected, as an afterthought. “But I’m glad Transatlantic is no more, because they deserved to crumble away – after all, they never did anything did they?”
After that came the aforementioned Gryphon, “who had dropped all the medieval bit before I came along. I did one album with them which flopped miserably before doing a stint with The Banned.” Needless to say the Banned didn’t jump to massive fame either.
Nick and John Alder form the songwriting part of the group, and of the Costello comparisons, they say that they’ve been writing together since they were 15 and have always sounded similar to the way they do now, long before they’d even heard Costello.
Unlike Alex, who recognises it was the MM competition that turned him pro, Nick and John knew the only job for them was in a band.
“I still went ahead with a diploma in photography for the traditional something to fall back on.” says Nick, “and John worked in a local Scarborough ironmongery before arriving in London as soon as I finished college. After that all our energies went into forming a band.”
They added Steve Prudence on bass, had a lot of frustration tearing through drummers and producers – “No we don’t like that model, send it back” – and now we’re back to where you came in.
Whether ‘Back Of My Hand’ will be a hit remains to be seen. I like it a lot, but think it’s too similar to Elvis Costello to get to the top. However, I’ll wait till I hear the Andy Summers produced EP before passing final judgement.
They’re just starting a British tour and after that they’re hoping to get Andy to produce their first LP. And then they’re setting their sights on America in the new year. “We’ve got to make it over there before Costello does, and then everybody will say he’s copying us!”
(Record Mirror – 29/09/79)
- “Back Of My Hand” / “Double Vision” (Island WIP 6501) 06/79
- “Woman’s World” / “Dumb Blonde” (Island WIP 6531) 01/80
- “Party Games” / “She’s So Considerate” (Island WIP 6587) 05/80
- “I Never Was A Beach Boy” / “Tune Into Heaven” (Island WIP 6666) 01/81
- “The Sound Of G-O-O-D-B-Y-E” / “The Hurt” (Island WIP 6683) 04/81
- “Evening Standards” (Island ILPS 9603) 01/80
- “No Tie Like A Present” (Island ILPS 9655) 05/81