Having originally formed just as punk was morphing into many different forms, Department S burned brightly with a trio of hit singles and notable television and radio appearances but label troubles led the band to end. They got back together a few years ago and haven’t looked back since, and with a new album entitled When All Is Said And All Is Done out soon, they done show any signs of stopping again. We had a chat with vocalist Eddie Roxy to hear all about the new album, the bands history and what the spirit of punk means in 2016.
Could you give a brief history lesson of Department S?
We’re an indie band formed in 1980. We released 3 singles, Is Vic There, Going Left Right, (Both made top 40 in UK and were successful in Europe) and I Want (Only successful in Europe). An album was made but Stiff Records went bust before it was released.
The band got back together in 2007. What was it that prompted the reunion?
A few bottles of red wine and an unfulfilled past! We started life as a solid indie band and chart success lead the record label to push us down a pop route. we simply wanted to put the record straight.
What was the biggest change in the music world when you came back?
Technology. You could now produce quality music in your bedroom and run your own radio station from your kitchen, strangely these developments had played directly in to the entrepreneurial spirit of 77.
Your latest album When All Is Said And All Is Done is out soon. What can you tell us about the new album?
It was produced by our bass player Pete Jones (ex PIL). We have used both recording studio and pro tools to make it. I think it is a great reflection of who we are and have always been. People have said it’s a bit Killing Joke and a bit Roxy Music with a smidgen of the Maccabees. I think people mean we are difficult to pigeonhole which is the same as it ever was!
How did the recording of the album go?
Very smoothly, If you leave your ego at the door, it makes being told you need to do another take much easier!
How does the album differ from the last release Mr Nutleys Strange Delusionarium from 2011?
Mr Nutley was a statement of who we are now. Many of the songs came from the original manifestation of Department S, recorded in the style we would have wanted them done rather than the milder incarnation offered in 1981. Originally the plan back then was to record an album with Mott the Hoople’s Overend Watts and Buffin (producers of Vic). After the success of Is Vic There? The powers that be brought in Steve Tickle, who had worked on Blondie’s Parallel Lines, to provide a much more commercial sound. Listen to the original version of Going Left Right and the Nutley version and I think you will see the difference.
Do you think you have achieved what you set out to with When All Is Said And All Is Done?
Very much so. It’s an album we are all proud of, which is all you can do as a musician. If anyone else likes it that is a bonus.
What are some of the subjects and themes you sing about on the album?
The usual, girls, life’s eternal struggle and the military retreat undertaken by the Red Army of the Chinese Communist Party (Long March).
Lyrically, are the songs talking about similar subjects that you did when you first started?
Never really thought about that before! I suppose the answer is yes but through the eyes of people over 30 rather than under!!!
You brought out the album Sub-Stance in 2003 which was an unreleased album from 1981. What happened that stopped the album coming out in the first place?
Stiff Records going under. No one taking the tapes around town and trying to get a band with 2 top 40 singles and a completed LP signed. That sounds a bit bitter which we are not. Looking back it seems a lost opportunity. The reality was that circumstances worked against us.
The band did a session for John Peel in 1980, what was that experience like, especially the first one you did when you were still a new band?
Strange. We went off to the BBC studio for a day, Bob Sargeant (who went on to produce Mirror In The Bathroom) produced it. We did 4 tracks very easily and that was that. Never got to meet the great man.
You also appeared on Top Of The Pops with your single Is Vic There. Was that a crucial thing for a band to do at that time to gain exposure?
At the time over 10 million people tuned in to TOTP every Thursday so being on it was a launch pad for everyone.
What was the musical climate like when Department S first started out?
I think the period 77-81 was probably the most dynamic creative era in the rich history of music in the UK. It was the time of Punk, Ska, Reggae, New Wave….and of course Disco! Where ever you went there was a “scene” going on. Think of the punk bands from London and Manchester. Ska from Coventry. The Liverpool new wave. Central Scotland’s Postcard.
Who are some of your favourite punk and post punk bands?
The Clash, Banshees, 999 and the Psychedelic Furs
And what about your favourite punk and post punk albums?
The Clash – Sandinista, 999 – Separates
It’s been 40 years since punk stated. Do you feel that punk made a difference, both in musical terms and beyond?
Very much so, bands today are still doffing their cap to the era, The Courteeners, Green Day. The spirit of entrepreneurship that was the backbone of our movement is still here today, remember punk was not just a musical movement in 1977 it was an “I can do it” answer to a world dominated by the establishment. We launched our own clubs, magazines, clothing, record labels.
How do you feel about punk as a genre and attitude in 2016?
I love the fact that our “fad” is still around 40 years later and the music that the established papers and radio stations told us was crap is still around today and sounding as fresh and exhilarating as ever.
What have been some of the highlights in the bands career?
John Peel Session, TOTP, Benicassim with Bob Dylan (ok he was not on same stage as us) and playing Glastonbury after the Vaccines.
Have you got any upcoming live plans?
Yes loads, just organising Autumn 2016 as we speak. We need to get out there and promote the new LP, updates will be on our website www.Dept-S.com and Facebook page.
What is the audience like for a Department S gig like nowadays. Is it a mixture of both old and new fans?
Strangely mainly new fans, we have played with the likes of The UK Subs, Eddie & the Hot Rods, Swamp Delta etc and most of whose crowd thought we would be more Smash Hits rather than the NME we are today so they are pleasantly surprised
How would you describe a Department S live show?
That’s not for me to say, from where I am standing all I hear is 3 great musicians and a singing monkey!
Will you be playing much new material?
Yes, when we reformed it was as a working rock n roll outfit, we do play old songs and mix up the set most nights. Seems to be going down well.
You’ve played big festivals from Glastonbury to Rebellion as well as constantly touring, What have been the highlights from these gigs for you, are there any particular ones that stand out?
The second gig we did on reformation was playing Sinner’s Day in Belgium. A crowd of 4,000 and being played out on Belgium TV, things that I dreamt of as a 14 year old boy in my bedroom singing along to Roxy Music.