DAVE PARSONS (SHAM 69) Interview

SHAM 69 (Live at the O2 Academy, Newcastle, U.K., October 20, 2017)
Photo: Mick Burgess

Punk legends SHAM 69, scored a run of Top 20 singles and albums throughout the late ’70s with their brand of foot-stomping, football terrace chant-a-long anthems for the disaffected youth. Now they are back with original members Jimmy Pursey, Dave Parsons and Dave Tregunna and are about to hit the road. Mick Burgess caught up with guitarist DAVE PARSONS to talk about life on the road, his thoughts on the fake band using their name and the prospects of a new record and how they ended up working with Velvet Underground legend, John Cale on their first single.

You’re heading out on tour in October. Are you looking forward to hitting the road again?

What we do is a little different to other bands who tend to play all of the time. One of the reasons I went into the music business is that I didn’t want a job that was like a 9 to 5 one. If we ended up playing at the rate that some bands do, especially at our age, it would end up feeling like a 9 to 5 job. We tend to play on average 12 to 13 gigs a year. When people come to see you they still expect you to perform like you did as a 17-year-old. If you did that every night there’s no way you could perform like that. If you have so much time between your gigs you can give it everything you’ve got and it also means that you’re still hungry for it and really looking forward to every gig you play. We are fortunate that we’re in a position where we can do that. It means that we have the energy to perform how we want to and how the fans want to see us and that way everybody enjoys it and that also means we look forward to playing again very much.

What sort of show do you have lined up for this tour?

There was a time where we’d get a bit high and mighty and just play a couple of old songs and too much of the show was new stuff. Now we are focussing on all of the hits. 90% of what we are playing people will know and will hear what they want to hear. We’ll also do a couple of recent songs or maybe a new one. At the Rebellion Festival a few weeks ago, which we headlined, we added in a song we’d only just written which was crazy as by the time we got to the end of the song people were singing along to it. The worst thing that can happen when you play a new song is the crowd just stands there with their mouths open but fortunately it didn’t happen to us.

You’ve been on the road now for nearly four decades. Do you still get that buzz from your live shows that you got when you first started?

Going back to not overplaying, there’s just nothing like it. People ask if we get bored playing the same songs but we only play them 12 or 13 times a year and when you’re up on stage every audience is slightly different and the connection with that audience and the way you play the song and the way they are received is all a new chemistry at each show. It’s about getting a connection with the audience and that’s where we get the buzz even now after all these years. Not to get spiritual or anything but it’s those moments when the band and audience almost become one that is a real buzz.

What sort of people do you get coming to your shows these days?

We get a real mix of all sorts of people these days and thank goodness those days of the violence at shows is long gone. If we were there playing and it was just the old crowd then I don’t think we’d carry on doing it. What is nice is that there is a big mix. The old crowd is still there which is great as they’ve always supported us but there’s a lot more ladies and young people now which is great to see.

How important was it for you be playing on this tour with Jimmy Pursey and Dave Tregunna again from the classic 1977 line-up

It’s great playing with different people but there’s something really special about playing with Jimmy and Dave. I’ve had a few friends die over the years and you can make new friends but it’s never quite the same as the old friends from the early days and it’s the same with a band. There’s a certain connection that was right and worked then and to still be playing with the same people is something that feels so right.

Like most bands, over the years there’s been friction. Jimmy has been fired, has rejoined and has left again over the years. Do you think that tension and conflict has been the spark to your creativity?

It is like a dysfunctional family. We have fallen out over the years but in the end the bond is so strong that you overcome those things and rise above them and it makes the band stronger. That tension probably helps the creativity of the band too. It’s nice to have a bit of an edge but it’s also nice to be comfortable too to know that you can take risks and go places that maybe you couldn’t with people you didn’t know as well.

5 years ago you were reconciled again. What was the catalyst that brought you back together?

Basically in 2006 I put a pick up band together and went out to play the Pursey/Parsons catalogue. At that point I wanted to play a lot more and Jimmy just didn’t. So, I told him I was going to go out on tour with a new band. Unfortunately, the people in that band believed that they were the original Sham 69. It was bizarre. There was a power struggle thing going on and Tim V, the singer, was trying to pit the other members against me. I just wondered what the hell was going on. Eventually I blew that out. I spoke to Jimmy and saw how he felt and he was up for us getting back together. As I’d played so much with the other band, too much in fact, coming back to playing with Jimmy was perfect as we could just play when we wanted to play.

The other version of Sham 69 with Tim V on vocals that you were a part of in the past that is still going. What’s your view on that?

They may be a very good tribute band but they are not being honest with people who are buying the tickets and travelling to see them when they expect to see me, Jimmy and Dave and they get a band with no members from the original line up who wrote and performed the classic material. They use our name, our logo and quite a few of their posters are using our pictures. When I split with them they agreed that they would not carry on as Sham 69. Tim V is so manipulative that he called up a mate of mine, Rick Butler, drummer from The Jam and recruited him into the band and went out playing Jam numbers. I spoke to Rick and he saw the writing on the wall and left and as soon as he left they went back being Sham 69 again. I just don’t understand it. People bring their albums backstage and ask him to sign them. They must get a lot of hostile reactions when people realise it’s not the original band. I’m not going to get involved in legal stuff as I don’t see them as a threat as they’re playing small little pub gigs but the concern we have is that they are ripping the fans off. They need to make it perfectly clear who they are and what they’re doing and call themselves something different. They are even saying that WE are the imposters. I’m not bitter but I do get annoyed when people start lying. I know Jimmy doesn’t really like to talk about all that but from my perspective I want people to know what’s happened.

Going right back to the start. How did you end up joining Sham 69?

We were at the same school but Jimmy was 4 or 5 years older than me but I knew who he was at the time. I was in a local band playing Mod stuff and Jimmy was in his band that was originally called Jimmy and the Ferrets. Around the time I bumped into Jimmy when we played on the same bill a couple of times he’d just changed the name to Sham 69. Jimmy wasn’t happy with his band and I wasn’t happy with mine and he suggested that we form a band together. We were knocking ideas around for band names and I said that Sham 69 was such a good name so we used that.

What were your musical influences at that time?

We were playing the more rebellious side of The Who and The Stones at that point and then Punk started to come through. I remember Jimmy showing me the first Ramones album and I remember going to see them at The Roundhouse when they first came over from America. It just blew us away. I was used to going to The Roundhouse and seeing Jeff Beck. Big respect to Jeff beck but it was all of that old Hippy sort of stuff and The Ramones were new and exciting and then there were the Heavy Metal Kids with Gary Holton and they were fantastic. It wasn’t like we just jumped on this new Punk movement, it was just there when we were coming through and we just slotted into it. It was a fantastic time.

How did a new band from Hersham manage to get John Cale of Velvet Underground to produce their first single, I Don’t Wanna?

One of the great things at that time when Jimmy and I first met was that we both had different strong points. I was a writer with the knack for melody. Jimmy had the front and bravado and that was a perfect match. We made a cassette of demos and Jimmy was one of these people who would just get on a train and head up to Sniffin’ Glue, the fanzine, where Myles Copeland’s office was. He walked in after virtually kicking the door down proclaiming that we were the best Punk band in the country. They sat there open mouthed and I think because of the gall he had in doing that they gave us a gig with The Lurkers, Chelsea and The Cortinas with us at the bottom of the bill. When the gig started everyone was in the bar so Jimmy started screaming at everyone to come and watch us and believe it or not, everyone came out to watch us and at that moment Myles Copeland turned up with Mark P of Sniffin’ Glue and John Cale. John Cale loved us and Myles Copeland wasn’t too sure but he said he’d sign us if John Cale produced us and he did our first single for us. It was crazy, that was after we’d only done our first ever gigs in London.

What did you learn from working with him?

To be totally honest, not a lot. He was a lovely guy and I’ve met him a few times since then but we were in this grotty studio called Pathway Studios and he had a bit of an alcohol problem at the time. We’d do a bit of work, turn around and John wouldn’t be there. Then we’d have to spend an hour trawling around the local pubs to drag him back. That went on for the whole session. That was the first time we’d recorded onto multitrack and John took me into the control room to say Albi our bass player just couldn’t play or keep time, although he did look the part. I ended playing bass at that session and Jimmy had to tell Albi it wasn’t going to work.

Do you still see Albi?

He worked as tour manager for us for a while and still see him on and off to this day. He’s a great guy. It’s just a shame that he couldn’t play in time.

That’s Life was released the same year with The Adventures of the Hersham Boys the following year. Three albums in two years is unheard of today. Were you in a particularly productive vein of form at that time?

I think such a lot was going on and there was a coming of age for us. We took an interest in our fans and their stories and what was moving them and that’s where the songs came from. It didn’t feel like it was any effort to write those first four albums they were just there waiting to be picked up. It came quite easily for us.

You had that run of 5 hit singles from 1978 to 1979. Did that success surprise you?

I remember when we were in our tour van and Angels With Dirty Faces came on the radio for the first time and it had jumped into the charts, that was the realisation that something was happening and that was the moment that we got those tingles down your spine. After that it didn’t really hit us what was happening until after the event. It all seemed to happen so quickly. One minute we heard ourselves on the radio, the next we were being called back to go on Top of the Pops.

You appeared a few times on Top of The Pops. Did you feel at that moment you’d made it?

Once we heard Angels With Dirty Faces on the radio we felt we were up and running. I don’t know how much we really thought about everything after that. It was just one thing to the next thing. I never walked down the street thinking I was a star. I don’t think it changed me. I just felt that I was on this rollercoaster having a fantastic time. It seemed to be working and if it hadn’t I’d have had to get a normal job.

Did that success bring pressures with it to maintain that level of success?

Fortunately, the songs were coming thick and fast. It was probably about the time of the fourth album that the label was pressuring us a lot and it was more effort to get the songs together. That’s when the pressure really started. We had however managed to sign a pretty good deal and got a lot of artistic freedom which meant we could make a lot of choices about what we did. We were free from a lot of restrictions from the label. We had a good manager too who was an astute guy and got us a good deal although we had a few issues with him later on.

What ultimately lead to the demise of the band in 1980?

I think a lot of it came from the violence at gigs at that time. It wasn’t just Sham gigs but lots of other bands had it as well. It was always a minority that caused it, a few people causing mayhem. I used to see fans looking really scared coming to the gigs and that really was the writing on the wall at that point. I wanted to take a back seat then.

You worked with Stiv Bators after that in The Wanderers. What were you able to do in The Wanderers that you couldn’t in Sham 69?

We were able to take a bit more time. Sham 69 was a Punk band and the whole essence was to capture the moment and not spend too long trying to get the perfect take. We had different ideas and concepts in The Wanderers and we brought in a producer and it’s the first time I’d ever spent time with a producer before going into the studio so it was very different to me. That’s what I needed at that time. I needed to go into something that was a different place to be.

You only made the one album, Only Lovers Left Alive. Did you feel that it was only a short-term project or did you think there was still plenty left to say as a band?

It was never meant to be a short-term project. It’s a story that’s never been heard really as I’ve never talked about it. I brought Stiv over and he was living in my house and I was paying his expenses. The moment he got there the phone was ringing all the time and it was Brian James from The Damned. I thought what on earth was going on. From the moment Stiv came over Brian James was trying to poach him. Basically they both did the dirty on me. We’d come back from an American tour and I was ill and ended up in hospital with hepatitis. When I came out they’d formed the Lords of the New Church and no one had said a word to me. The Wanderers was no longer a band. Even Dave Tregunna left. Obviously I’m still friends with him now and we’re back in Sham 69together but I had no idea he’d gone too. I’d just recovered from hepatitis to find I had no band.

What do you think when you look back on that time now?

Despite that I do have fond memories of those times and I do still like that album. I’m not a bitter person and I don’t see the point in looking back. I don’t hold grudges and things could have been handled differently but things are as they are. They could have been handled better and I would have liked Stiv or Dave to have phoned me to tell me. Nobody called me and that was the bit that hurt. Me and Dave haven’t really spoken about it since and there may come a time when we do sit down and talk about what happened but it’s not on my to do list.

You did get drawn back to Sham 69 again over the years. Is this where you feel most at home?

Yes, I do and what showed me that was when I was working with Tim V and that other bunch of idiots. Coming back and being with Dave and Jimmy was like a homecoming and sometimes you have to go through a bad experience to realise what you’ve got and it was good to come back and work with Jimmy and Dave again and I’m very happy that I did.

Do you have any plans to record a new Sham 69 album?

People keep asking us when the new album is coming out. We are writing and when we get enough songs we will put an album out. It’s great to be in the position where we are not under any pressure to do that. Anything that we write is a spontaneous thing, maybe Jimmy has an idea or I’ll have a riff and something comes out of it. Rather than sitting down and saying that we have to write a song, something just comes. We are getting new songs together but it’ll take a while before we get a new album out. We’re not worried about that. Jimmy sometimes puts some of our demos up on YouTube or Facebook but we aren’t under any pressure so the album will come out when it’s ready.

What do you have lined up when the UK tour is finished?

We have a festival in Spain in November and maybe another gig but that’s about it this year. I’m off to Australia for a month in early 2018 to escape the British winter then we’ll see what happens after that.

Sham 69 play at the O2 Academy, Newcastle on 20th October.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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