A China Crisis interview – they are currently on tour around the UK and Ireland, including dates in New York.
On tour you will be performing the entire album: Flaunt The Imperfection live, plus other hits. The album was released in 1985 and produced by the late, great Steely Dan co-founder, Walter Becker. Why did you feel that now was the right time to perform the album in its entirety?
Mostly because it’s considered a landmark recording by ourselves and the fans, and is our best selling album here in the UK. We have performed the Flaunt The Imperfection album show a couple of times here in Liverpool, and both times sold out shows and it was very enjoyable, so we were of a mind to tour it and see what people think.
How did you first come to meet Walter Becker?
It was the summer of ’83, and China Crisis were on tour supporting Simple Minds in America. We met up with Warner Bros. Records and they asked who we were interested in recording our third album with. Eddie jokingly said Gary Katz, Steely Dan’s producer, and they said they could do better than that; they had Walter Becker on their books and would we like them to contact Walter. Of course we said yes, and Walter already had Working with Fire and Steel, so was already familiar with our music. He very kindly came to London to meet us and we played him the demos for Flaunt The Imperfection, including Black Man Ray, King In A Catholic Style, Bigger The Punch I’m Feeling, and the rest as they say is history.
What are some of your fondest memories from the making of the album?
Everyone getting on so well, but even at times when we were falling out, we knew we were recording something special. Getting to work with the likes of Phil Brown and Walter, that kind of thing does not happen every day. Walter being so generous; he really brought a whole new world of harmony to our music, and we will forever be in his debt for sure.
Autumn In The Neighbourhood, released in 2015, is the band’s first album since 1994’s Warped by Success. During this hiatus, were you and Eddie still creating music individually, or were you focusing on other artistic pursuits?
Mostly we got busy playing live, performing anywhere and everywhere. Yeah we’d had success, but that didn’t really equate with us having a following, so we had to buckle down and get out on the road and remind people (and ourselves) of what we like to call ‘China Greatness’ ahaaa!
How did the decision come about to release the album via the PledgeMusic site? How did you find that foray in to the virtual world?
Basically our fans kept telling us to make a new record and when the digital platforms became available, the likes of PledgeMusic and Crowdfunding, Eddie and myself thought well, if we raise enough money to make a new album then yeah thats what we’ll do, and lo and behold, the fans made it happen. As for the digital domain, it’s all still pretty new to us but it’s fun connecting with everyone.
The themes of Autumn In The Neighbourhood seem to be love, loss and ultimately the celebration of life. Can you tell us a little bit about the material for the album i.e. were the songs composed at different times during the twenty-year plus period between the albums?
Yes, some of the songs started 20 years ago and then we always kept writing and recording along the way. It’s hard to put into words how they came about and essentially ‘what they are about’. It’s always very personal and I always think people relate to songs in such an individual way, sometimes it’s best to just let people decide for themselves how they relate to our music. Songs do have a life of their own; some make it and some don’t and that’s very much how we composed Autumn In The Neighbourhood.
Over the years, your musical ‘style’ has been described as New Wave, Synthpop, Jazz, Soul, etc. Do you feel like China Crisis has a distinct style, and if so, how would you describe it?
I can’t for the life of me think what would be identifiable, maybe our singing voices, and as for genres of music, I’d like to think we like them all, and you can hear that in our music.
When you were growing up in Kirkby, Merseyside, which musicians/music did you listen to? What music do you like to listen to now?
Growing up in Kirkby, mostly our brothers and sisters would play records or have the radio on, the top 40 countdown, Top of the Pops, and then our friends at school… we would all be getting into the same groups around about the same time… Bowie, Eno, Magazine etc. Music we listen to now….everything and anything, from John Grant to Owen Pallett.
Gary, how did you and Eddie first meet? Did you bond over shared musical tastes or similar interests?
Yes, Eddie was dropped from a higher set at our comprehensive school, St Kevin’s School for boys, we took an instant dislike to each other, mainly because we realised we both had a passion for music, more than for history or geography etc. It didn’t take us long to bond over our shared passion for music, and pretty much soon began making music together. . . well, I say making music…but truth be told we needed to learn to play our instruments: guitar, bass guitar, synth, drum machines.
Did you and Ed have any musical training or were you both self-taught musicians?
Self-taught, we both had had guitars as very young teenagers, around about the age of 12 I would have got a guitar for my birthday from Woolworths, and then later on, Eddie had a guitar and then his mum Katie very kindly let us purchase a Yamaha CS10 synth from her catalogue, which was meant to be paid for weekly, which I doubt very much Ed and I did, that would have been Katie supporting us from the off…..awww.
How do you put yourself in the flow to write a song? Are there any rituals that you like to follow, and do the lyrics always come to you first or is every song completely different?
I sit at the piano every day and play and lo and behold songs appear from out of nowhere, but you do have to play and play and play. Lyrics come at anytime, sometimes with the music and other times you just have to be aware that there are always words popping into the consciousness, and words make lyrics and lyrics are what’s needed for a ‘song’ to happen.
Who are your favourite writers and poets?
I mostly read diaries and biographies, so I don’t have a fave writer as such. And poetry. . . well I see and hear that all the time. . . in pictures, films, music. Poetry for me equals magic, it’s difficult to define but it happens for sure.
Have you ever thought about composing music for film?
In the early days of the China’s making records I always thought that was something we would be involved in but then ‘pop’ happened and that’s more than enough to contend with. I do like hearing our music in film and television, especially when it’s featured in something like Coronation Street….b o o m! Result.
What do you think is the secret to the longevity of both your personal friendship with Eddie, and musical partnership?
I think that would be down to our upbringing, very Catholic, working class and of course ‘chemistry’ which again, is hard to define. I think there is something magical about our voices together, and on a personal level, we’ve learnt to give each other support. It’s a job at the end of the day, but one of the better ones, absolutely.
Photo: Philippa Rose DalyYou’re a prolific, incredibly talented artist, and have had solo exhibitions of your work. How long have you been drawing and painting and what subject matters inspire you?
Oh that’s too kind of you to say. . .really? I have been drawing for some 31 years now. I know the exact time because it was when Jean was pregnant with our eldest girl, Molly, that I started. I’m a bit compulsive with the drawing and try to do it every day. Subject matter is anything and everything; mostly people, patterns and places real and imagined. It’s always a thing that makes me feel better. I’d like to think I’ll get to paint (drawing is my thing now) when I’m an older bloke. So all this drawing is my apprenticeship, and one day it will be a brush I’ll pick up and not a pen.
Which artists do you admire?
David Hockney, Grayson Perry, John Currin, early Lucian Freud, Gillian Ayres, Robert Crumb, Stella Vine, Rose Wylie, Alice Neel.
Following this China Crisis interview, for further information and complete dates for the band’s current tour visit the China Crisis site here
For tickets to some upcoming UK Tour Dates: www.ticketmaster.co.uk