Part Two of SRO's Exclusive Intverview With The Original “Angry Young Man,” Graham Parker

UPSTATE NEW YORK - Veteran musician, Graham Parker, is quite frankly, the original “Angry Young Man,” having released multiple albums with his band, The Rumour, a couple years before such disciple-artists as Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and Nick Lowe even had record deals. Parker set the stage for the genre that would become the so-called “punk” and “new wave” movements that exploded onto the music landscape in the late-'70's.


Article by Joe Milliken * Photos courtesy of Graham Parker

After discussing his early career in part one of SRO's exclusive interview with Parker, we then talked about his diverse solo career, after his days fronting The Rumour, and before finally coming full-circle with his original band-mates, some 30 years later.

At the conclusion of part one, Parker had released his final album fronting The Rumour, The Up Escalator, which had garnered great success in 1980, reaching #11 on the UK charts, #20 in Canada and #40 in America. However, despite his growing success, Parker was ready to take his music in another direction.

“I simply wanted to hear my songs in a different musical setting,” Parker told SRO in part one. “It was the right thing to do for my growth and skills as an artist. I never once thought we'd (The Rumour) get back together again until we did, and when we finally did, it felt natural and right. Anytime before that would have felt wrong. It's not something you can analyze too much, because there's no concrete answers!”

Parker's first album, post-The Rumour, was titled Another Grey Area, which charted in both the UK (#40) and US (#51) in 1982. The album featured a couple renowned sessions players in the late pianist, Nicky Hopkins, who had collaborated with The Rolling Stones, The Who and John Lennon, and guitarist, Hugh McCracken, who has worked with Paul McCartney, Lennon, Bob Dylan and Billy Joel. Going into his first official solo project, to be co-produced with the legendary Jack Douglas, Parker's mindset was simply to be himself.

“I can only recall that what I wanted was a long way from what The Rumour did,” Park recalls. “I wanted a seamless, slick production with much less intense musicianship. I'd heard a few tracks from some new record by John Lennon and knew that Jack Douglas had produced it, and that he was interested in working with me. I think I got what I wanted. It was the '80's, what can I tell you?!”

“Nicky Hopkins was almost an iconic figure for me, with an incredible resume, including the Rolling Stones, and it turned out we got along well and became good friends. I hung out with him whenever I was in LA, where he was living, or when he was in London.”

In 1983, Parker released The Real Macaw, which featured Rumour band mate, Brinsley Schwarz on guitar, as well as Squeeze drummer Gilson Lavis. The album reached #59 on the Billboard album chart, and was followed by Steady Nerves in 1985. Credited to “Graham Parker and The Shot,” Steady Nerves was recorded in New York City, where Parker resided about half the year.

The Shot featured Schwarz on guitar, George Small on keyboards, Kevin Jenkins on bass, and Michael Braun on drums. The single from the album, titled “Wake Up (Next To You),” cracked the Billboard Top 40. “I thought my hard work and dedication was paid off in full when I had gotten a major label record deal in 1975, to be honest,” Parker said.

“What I did get out of this early 80's period, is that although I was now critically hated in England, America didn't seem to mind too much that I was exploring my creativity further and in different ways. I also realized England was now too small for me, and although I have had properties over the years in the U.S. and at that time, had a trendy loft in New York City, I was still in the UK for at least half the year, I just wasn't visible there and used it as family time and party time. As far as my work was concerned though, America was top of the list. I'm always thankful for the support the U.S. gave me, the fans and the critics.”

Then, in the mid-'80's, Parker went through some label issues, before releasing the critically-acclaimed, The Mona Lisa's Sister, on RCA Records. “The Mona Lisa's Sister was critical for me, in making the next conceptual step. It was obvious the '80's production styles had become quite awful, flatulent and indulgent. It was like what prog rock had become in the '70's.

“On Steady Nerves I remember what the producer, William Whitman, did to the drum sound and I suppose it was quite like what most were doing then – making every snare hit sound like a ton of glass falling off the Empire State Building. I honestly didn't recognize the sound that came out of those speakers as drums at all! It was this hideous monstrosity but it was what we were supposed to be doing then. I went along with it but something was nagging me and once that record was in the rear view, I knew that I was going to take charge of the next one, which became the Mona Lisa's Sister.”

Indeed, Parker began producing his own albums and The Mona Lisa's Sister proved a success, which has since been recognized in Rolling Stone magazine's list of “top albums of the 1980's.” The backing band featured former Rumour band members, Schwarz and Bodner, as well as drummer Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello and The Attractions. However, as the '90's approached, Parker was dropped by Atlantic Records and started recording for RCA, including 1990's Human Soul, 1991's Struck By Lightening, and 1992's Burning Questions.

“(After Steady Nerves) I became convinced that my next record would be about only two things - the singer and the acoustic guitar. Drums were not important, no other instrument was going to override that either. Well, that bizarre and baffling idea seemed so shocking to the Atlantic folks that I got chucked out of the deal. So, I was getting out of the '80's mentality by 1986 and I've largely produced my albums since then.”

After releasing a Christmas-themed EP in 1994, Parker signed with the American independent label, Razor & Tie, where he would reside for nearly a decade. “I don't recall how I came to sign with Razor & Tie, but it did seem obvious to me that major labels were now not even worth bothering with. By then, the majors clearly had bigger fish to fry and in those days, indie labels were offering advances which is not so common now. Now, they largely expect the artist to pay for recording an album then expect the artist to do loads of gigs and buy albums to sell at gigs, a pretty grim situation.”

In 1995, Parker shifted gears, releasing the moving and personal 12 Haunting Episodes. “That record had a very unusual beginning,” Parker said. “I went into a studio in Saugerties, New York and recorded some new demos with acoustic guitar and voice. All the songs but one were written in an open tuning, which made me write in quite different grooves than usual. I'd tried the open tuning because whatever I was trying to write in straight tuning was boring me, and I thought this might open some doors.

“When I would get home, after recording, I would put the volume up high on my cassette player and listen though headphones. After a while I thought that the intensity and looseness of the performances was exactly what I wanted to capture, so why record them again with other instruments... Why not add the instruments to this?

“The engineer was horrified when I told him I wanted to add everything, including drums, to the basic solo tracks! But we figured a lot of the tracks could be done by a drummer who was good at percussion, so we could add that in bits and pieces easier than a full kit. Then, I played bass and lead guitar and we then used a keyboard player and a bamboo flute player and whatever else. It made for a totally different record. I was pleased with it, it was in a field of one.”

After 1996's Acid Bubblegum, which featured old friend Andrew Bodnar on bass and Blondie keyboardist, Jimmy Destri, Parker continued playing live on the road, and started often working with New York-garage rockers, The Figgs. “I met the Figgs in Atlanta, when they were in their 20's and I was in my 40's. They were playing the late shift in a club I was playing solo in, earlier in the evening. I'd never heard of them before.

“Mike Gent, guitarist writer and singer, sat down with me after my sound-check and we both had guitars and he mentioned some song of mine that I could barely remember the chords to, but he could. He impressed me with his knowledge. They gave me a record of theirs and a little light bulb went off on my head, so I made contact after recording Acid Bubblegum. They seemed like just the band to back me up for a tour, and they agreed to it. We went on from there and had some great shows, and made Songs Of No Consequence for Bloodshot (Records).”

After releasing 2001's Deep Cut To Nowhere, 2004's Your Country and the aforementioned Songs Of No Consequence in 2005, Parker participated in a unique collaboration with B-52's Kate Pierson, and Buffalo Tom's Bill Janovitz to record a collection of Lennon/McCartney songs not recorded by the Beatles, titled From The Window: Lost Songs of Lennon and McCartney. “In the '90's, this guy named Jim Sampas, got me to do various Jack Kerouac-related protects. Reading Kerouac passages at venues, including New York's Town Hall one night, where Allan Ginsberg and Odetta were on the bill, among other luminaries.

“I even recorded Kerouac's Visions of Cody, with David Amram, (I had read about him – amazing man) backing my readings with multi-instrumentation. It was released on double-cassette, via Viking/Penguin. Years later, Sampas proposed this Lost Songs Of The Beatles idea and I went for it. We even toured with a backing band... it was a lot of fun, but hardly anyone came. It's a very good record, though.”

In 2003, Parker also contributed a solo, acoustic version of the Pink Floyd song, “Comfortably Numb,” to a compilation album titled A Fair Forgery of Pink Floyd. Others appearing on the compilation include Mike Kenally, Philip Glass and Yortoise.

“When I was recording Your Country, the guy who ran the studio in LA asked me if I'd do a track for a Pink Floyd tribute that he was compiling, so I chose that tune as it's easy to do as a solo piece. And of course, back in my freak days, Pink Floyd were very much apart of the musical backdrop. I just banged it down in a little studio in New York State and didn't really think much about it. Just one of those odd things that you do and forget about. There are many.” Such as...

Although not at all odd but perhaps little-known, Parker is also a published writer, going all the way back to 1980, in fact, with his illustrated science fiction novella, The Great Trouser Mystery. He also published a set of short stories in 2000, titled Carp Fishing on Valium, and a novel in 2011 titled The Other Life Of Brian. As opposed to writing song lyrics, does one type of writing come easier than the other?

“When I was writing Carp Fishing On Valium and the novel, The Other Life Of Brian, I thought I was doing a man's work and that song writing was a boy's work. Sometimes you need hard assessments like that to push you forward. It took over, as any artistic endeavor should. Even a 20-page short story is more difficult than a three verse, one-bridge song that you can see in front of you on one page.

“There again, with a song, you need a compelling melody or chord sequence and you need to rhyme, so it ain't easy either! But I found it very hard to keep track of consistency with even a short story, let alone a novel. Carp Fishing went from hardcover to paperback on St Martin's Press, which means it was a success, albeit a modest one. It has been re-released, as it were, on my website with three additional stories.”

In the spring of 2011, and clearly “out-of-the-blue,” Graham Parker reached out to his old band-mates in The Rumour, to work on their first album together in over 30 years. They recorded Three Chords Good in July, and then toured throughout America, the United Kingdom and Europe. “The songs weren't written with the Rumour guys in mind, I just wrote songs.

“After doing quite a few albums with me playing all, or most of the string instruments, I fancied getting Andrew Bodnar on bass and Steve Goulding on drums and recording as a three piece. Then, I'd add lead guitar and use a keyboard player, but there was still no thought of a Rumour reunion. But Steve, ever the sharp wit, said 'why don't you get Brinsley, Martin and Bob on it, then you'd have a proper band!' Without thinking it through, I emailed or phoned those guys, and then it hit me after everyone instantly agreed, that this was gonna cost me!”

But then, in a timely twist of fortune, movie and television writer, director, and producer, Judd Apatow, contacted Parker about appearing in his movie project – playing himself – titled This Is 40. The movie was released in December of 2012. “Well, it was not a week later, and Judd Apatow gets a hold of me and suddenly we are not just doing an album after a 30 year-plus gap, we are also flying to Hollywood and appearing in a major motion picture.

“In its first weekend, the movie was number-three at the box office and went on to appear in cinemas everywhere, for months and months, and I'm still seeing it pop up on British TV. All I knew, is that we would now, surely not be playing our music at the break-neck speeds we used to play at - at least in our later career in the late '70's and early '80's - which sounds pretty bad to me now. (Therefore) All the true swing and subtlety of this great band would now shine through, and it did.”

In 2013, the Gramaglia Brothers, who created End Of The Century: The Story Of The Ramones, released a documentary film about Parker that was 10 years in the making, titled Don't Ask Me Questions. This all happening, as Parker was announcing the reformation of The Rumour, and while filming the Apatow film. The Gramaglias not only filmed the recording session for the new album, but also shot footage of Parker and the Rumour in Hollywood, on the movie set. Don't Ask Me Questions was aired on BBC4 TV and received rave reviews.

“The documentary was about ten years in the making and was actually edited, and ready to go, before Three Chords Good was recorded. It was then, that I sprung it on the filmmaker that I'd done what I swore I'd never do - a new album with the Rumour! Plus, I told him, we are gonna be in a major motion picture by Judd Apatow. As you can imagine, all this had to be added to the documentary. I thought it was a great and satisfying piece of work in the end, and the completeness of reuniting and the movie, made it truly satisfying. We had the most marvelous bump that we never expected, and it was really great

“(All this) Added more swing to our recordings and live shows, something that was always inherent to us, but buried by my aggression, as much as anything... the true nature of our work emerged. It's very hard for me to listen to the old stuff, and has been for years quite frankly. Although, I must admit, the old power was pretty awesome in its own way.”

The Rumour followed up the “reunion recording” with 2015's Mystery Glue, released on the Universal Records' Cadet Concept label. Written from Parker's New York home, the album was recorded at London's RAK Studio in just six days, and featured Bob Andrews, Brinsley Schwarz, Martin Belmont, Andrew Bodnar and Stephen Goulding. “My recording work is always done on the quiet, without fanfare,” Parker concluded.

“The last thing I want is some record company suggesting things, and if fans know when I'm recording an album, I will get a barrage of 'What's it going to be like'? questions! However, I did just record a new song for the new Judd Apatow produced (and some episodes directed) comedy now showing on HBO called 'Crashing,' which will be heard on the last episode of this first season. Not with the Rumour backing me, I might add, although one member, Martin Belmont, plays lead guitar on it.”

Parker and Schwarz are also currently on a tour, performing as a duo, on the East coast in the states, and some Canadian shows as well. To learn more about Parker, his prolific music catalog, his books, and upcoming duo-tour dates, visit his official website at www.grahapparker.net. Also check out Part I of this interview here: http://standing-room-only.info/feature/joe-milliken/exclusive-interview-...