Band Interview: UK Decay

Interview conducted by Morticia Batz/Graves and Assistant Writer Hexable.

In 2018, I asked UK Decay if they wanted an interview and they agreed. Unfortunately, we had to put all our interviews on hold for a while. I had to republish 93 interviews and articles to move them onto our website. Near the very end of 2020 we were finally able to start publishing new interviews. We would like to thank UK Decay for their patience with us! We are so excited to share this interview with y’all! Lots of information and fun stories in here! Get yourself some coffee, or tea, or whatever your drink of choice is and enjoy getting into the minds of UK Decay! Fun fact this year marks 40 years since UK Decay’s album “For Madmen Only” was released. Be sure to follow them so you don’t miss out on anything!

How have you guys been doing through the pandemic? Have you picked up any new hobbies or old ones?

Spon: I have been creating music and video for my solo project ~ Nostramus ~ working songs into moving footage. I have moved from England to Wales a beautiful country with hills, rivers mountains and amazing coastlines. I have re-established a new base here with more room and have used film footage, sometimes from my auto's dashcam to write music to. Now I have got myself a small drone aircraft, a camera in the sky to hopefully create more content.

Ray: making music at a socially-distanced studio, less smoking but more sitting down. And have picked up yoga!

Abbo: Reading classic European literature and spending a good deal of time absorbing , rather than just moving from book to book. Listening to a lot of classical and jazz music from the 20’s , 30’s , 40’s , dark times for the world and dark themes deep in the recordings of those times .

Last year Spon wrote some words for an article “Notes to you: Bands want you to know you are not alone” which meant to help those dealing with mental health issues with or without a pandemic. Spon you said a lot of great things that really helped a lot of people. At one point you said “Be positive and take the opportunity to plant your grow gardens and write some new music! Have joy in letting the planet take a breath!” This line resonated with many people and I wondered if you might be willing to share another word or two in honor of mental health again?

Spon: It has been a very strange time navigating this pandemic. Its been nearly a year now of lockdowns and partial openings and not surprisingly folk have been chomping at the bit to get out and meet up with others once more. Most of us are missing our famillies and friends and our normal unrestricted lifestyles, we are social animals after all. We miss going to concerts and to the cinema or bars whatever. UK Decay were meant to tour Europe last Fall but we have to accept the situation for what it was. Mental health does rear its ugly head with this 'lockdown stress' and I defy anyone that thinks in these hard times that it doesnt or won't affect them. It did for me personally. At the start of the pandemic I was still mourning the recent passing of my mother and as if bereavement was not enough I had to consider my partner and family. My advice is that absolutely no one is immune to suffering with Mental health issues, don't be frightened of reaching out and maybe asking for support or even a few kind words from someone who you may be close to. There is absolutely no shame in suffering with mental health issues, it happens to us all at times. Finally be aware of those around you, sometimes a phone call or kind word with someone could be all that is needed to lift them. Click here to see Spon’s words for the mental health article

Can you tell us one of your favorite or funny stories from one of your past shows? Everyone likes a fun story!

Spon: Oh dear Leeds Fan club back in 1981. It was a nightclub , we were on tour. For that tour we had a pair of 'road managers' Geronimo Geoff and Michael and they bickered throughout the tour. The band had played three songs and my guitar amplifier stopped working. There was a tiny room right behind the stage, these two guys took the amp to see if they could get it working, meanwhile Abbo kept the audiance entertained. Behind the stage an argument errupted and got louder and louder. the audience could hear the developing argument and found it amusing. Next there was a cry "STOP...Don't do it like that" followed by a huge flash and bang, which was followed by two furlorn, blackened faces appearing from behind the stage. A round of aplause then errupted from the audiance as the two guys slunk off stage. Lesson was never bridge a fuse with tin foil oops!

Ray: we inadvertently left our backdrop at a venue in Paris. Months later we saw it being waved from the crowd at Wave Gottik Teffen. Our manager was doing his nut trying to get it back.

Abbo: Trying to climb between the ‘false’ roof tiles and the actual roof tiles to drop down on stage at a Uk Decay gig in Groningen . I didn’t think about the ties and zips on my bondage trousers , which got caught , so there I was stuck ‘in the ceiling ‘ and the band was pumping out Unexpected Guest wondering where the hell I was . It took 10 minutes to get free , and when I dropped down into the stage with all the smoke and flashing strobe lights the rest of the band could hardly play for laughing. The audience just thought it was aa long cool introduction .

Photo by Tim Swain

When you were recording Werewolf what were the major influences when recording, or what was the story behind that if there is one?

Abbo: I was reading a lot, we come from a tough , working class estate in Luton , which is just outside London and it wasn’t cool to listen at school or learn, but when I left I discovered the library and ‘free’ books it provided , there was so much to take in about the world and a race to get as much info into a teenage mind . I read a lot of noir and horror stories as well as Herman Hesse , Thomas Mann , Neitsche , discovered some classical music (Wagner/Beethoven) , and lyrics were pouring out of me once I joined Martyn Smith and Steve Harle in The Resisters . We soon changed our names to UK Decay and then asked Spon to join so I could move from guitarist to singer. The band had written the music for werewolf in a jam , and I had long been thinking about an epic storytelling song about the place in human consciousness where the human and the animal join. We had a lot of trouble from right wing groups attacking us because of our stance of zero tolerance on racism and homophobia , and its was literally like being attacked by a group of ravaging dogs . We recorded the music and I just went into the record room with a long list of words and sentences and sang it from beginning to end live . It just all poured out into the microphone , the band were sitting in the mix room listening and I remember when I finished singing is all I heard was a strange silence coming from the mix room. I asked what they thought and nobody really answered , I guess it took a minute to sink in . I put the front vocal (the wolf noises on later ) as that was an afterthought of setting the main part of the song up , create a mood . The radio DJ John Peel played the record as his opening tune on two nights in a row , the whole 10 minutes , he was a brave DJ!

Many bands have been heavily influenced by you guys. Do you think the band paved the way for bands like; Anti-cimex, Mob 47, Final Conflict and doom?

Abbo: I must admit I don’t know any of those bands , but we did find our audience members and people that followed the band increasingly come up to us after shows and say that they were inspired to form their own groups, and they ended up often as our support bands on tour , which was cool as it was like hanging out with a group of mates , it was more like bands like Play Dead , Southern Death Cult , Danse Society , Sex Gang Children etc, who took over when we decided to split UK Decay up.

Part of your recent actions have been to push Parliament to add a Musicians passport. What has changed for ya’ll since Brexit, what are your feelings on it?

Spon: Brexit for musicians and most other creatives is an absolute shambles. UK musicians and our techies have virtually been cut off from literally millions of people, a huge market next door. It sadly is such a retrogressive move toward isolationism and pompous would be imperialism bought on the premise of "Taking back control" and rewinding toward 'traditional British values' When really it was all a lie perpetrated by elite corporations that want to turn the UK into a tax haven like Singapore or Hong Kong. I have never known such a retrogressive 'democratic' vote that could actually have destroyed so many peoples livelyhoods and way of lives like it is doing, certainly not here in the UK. And I find it hard to see anything else like this elsewhere in the world apart from third country 'banana republics'. I am talking about the whole spectrum of musicians and their supporting roadcrew's, actors and other artist's and creative's no longer having easy and cost free access to 28 countries next door like we used to rightfully take for granted. It really feels like Boris Johnson's government has thrown us out with the bathwater, he will just not listen to any of the arguments for the sake of controlling our borders. He literally seems to have declared war on all creative types. No one imagined that he would actually betray us like he did. We were promised that it wouldn't be a problem for musicians to continue touring Europe post Brexit, when in actual fact the additional costs, red tape and paperwork will make for most up and coming and small/mid league bands aspiring to tour Europe untenable. And the same goes for European and International artists wishing to tour the UK, we are going to have a massive reduction of non UK artists visiting our concerts and festivals. In fact I have never known such a grim outlook for the UK music industry and I place the blame not so much on Covid but squarly on the shoulders of Boris Johnson and the rest of his crony chums. Sadly democracy in the UK can be bought with big money, we have suffered a 'very British coup', the elite, aristocracy, corporation controlled media, think tanks and lobby groups have crafted a supremacy in managing public opinion towards their wishes.

Ray: we’ve all got different views on it. For the band, I think it means taking no instruments to Europe (therefore avoiding the carnet). Probably means standing in longer passport queues also. Personally, I think it underscores the UK as a small island in a cold sea.

Abbo: I think the band members would probably describe themselves as “European" rather than British , we were lucky as we toured Europe a lot in the late 70’s and early 80’s , so drank in the European cultures we experienced.

A New Hope For the Dead, “Killer” specifically, has pointed criticisms of the U.S.A. inside of Afghanistan and the culture of war. Which I find to ring true in most cases. Did any events or people inspire you to write those songs?

Abbo: I just wrote that in one hour whilst the other band members were in the record room laying down one of the other songs. We toured the West Coast of America in the early 80’s , supporting Dead Kennedys , and played on bills along side Black Flag , DOA , Subhumans , Johnny Thunders etc . I hated everything about America , other than a whole load of people we met around the punk scene there. I lived in NY for a long time , its a great city in so many ways , but at the end of the day the $$$$ is king , and that is not a rule to set up a happy society without causing great pain for a huge majority of its people. I think Trump has probably just been more open in the dirty tricks and arrogance of the US’s role in the rest of the world, his actions have been no different to what the US government has been doing for a hundred years . That is what the song is about , the ‘Killer” is not a person , it’s the US foreign policy . Having said all that , I loved watching ’The Queen’s Gambit ‘ and have missed drinking with some of my best friends.

Tell us about how you guys have been creating a communal space for all with UK Decay. Community is everything for many, but you guys have gone out of your way to literally try and create one. Can you tell us about that and why you feel building the band as a community space is important to you guys?

Spon: To be honest I have been very quiet on the UK Decay Community front of late. I and a couple pals not actually in the band started UK Decay Communities back in 2003 and grew it with a forum and a connection to Myspace during the noughties to having nearly two thousand members who were keen to see the bands recordings rereleased on CD. With their help we managed to build up the base to getting the band back together once more. We promoted several reunion events and each one grew in magnitude and eventually Abbo rang me and suggested we play on one of our up and coming re-unions. This was 2007 and we played just one song 'For My Country' which we played twice. We then agreed a full on return gig for the following year and promoters started calling us and it wasn't long before we were playing festivals in Europe and the UK once more. Most of our audiance are used to long periods of 'none action' with UK Decay but we are capable of picking up once more and which I am sure we will do once again , post covid.

Ray: without a community, what do you have? It’s the community that ties everyone together 40 odd years after the first release. However, should be pointed out that Spon is the architect of that continued community!

Abbo: Spon is good at keeping the community alive and engaged with each other , I’d describe him as a wizard with a 5 string'ed wand.

At WGT 2019, you guys played while celebrating 40 years together. How was that experience being on stage again together?

Spon: Thouroughly enjoyed WGT in 2019, for me it was the best of the three times we played the Treffen. It was great getting the engine fired up once more with the guys still perfoming to the max, to the fantastic WGT crowd.

Ray: it’s always great being on stage together and playing those songs. We’ve played WGT I think three times now and always enjoy it. The audience and promoters are brilliant. When those songs begin to soar it’s akin to an out of body experience. I particularly enjoyed blowing kisses at Ed in an attempt to put him off his stride. But he’s too good to fall for that

Abbo: The best bands often have a bit of tension in them , we are all close in the way that a sports team would be , each requiring each other to do their thing to make the band work , but we also wind eachother up a bit too , we really are individuals who happen to share enough in common with each other in our musical and political ambitions to be in the band. It is parts exciting , exhausting , rewarding , but most of all , it’s just what we do. We never consider what might be done to be ’successful , commercial or to give a shot what anyone else does or thinks. We just do it because fate thew us together to do it .

UK Decay at WGT - Video taken by Deejay Cyberpagan

Can you tell us about the other side projects you have going on for each of you?

Spon: As I mentioned earlier I have been working on some new music for my solo Nostramus Project. I recently released a new single and have another ready to go on Bandcamp ( I am fully aware that my Nostramus discography may not exactly appeal to many of UK Decay's traditional audiance. I have released music under the Nostramus name now since 1995 and it is Electronica by nature, sometimes Drum and Bass , sometimes Dark Ambient or Digital Dub or Dubstep. Hopefully I have created and grafted sounds that are genuine and from my heart. I don't always include guitar in this work as it gives me a chance to express using my Cubase DAW. In this music I see myself as a composer producer and at times I have had some great review and feedback from my work, which by the way has always been left of centre alternative, I have never liked blatant pop or commercial music.

Ray: I write songs with a studio-based act called Exploding Honey. More for films and TV really, although we have begun to pick up some radio exposure. Stylistically it’s different to Decay, but shares the same sentiment.

Abbo: I’m busy managing other artists , have written another Decay album , which we almost recorded straight after New Hope For The Dead , but didn’t get to .

No matter what has happened with UK Decay you guys have all remained genuine and have always taken political stands. What say you of some of the people who claim that “Punk and Goth is apolitical” Or that politics do not belong in these music genres?

Spon: We are moulded in our daily life by politricks, for us it was the three day working week, the winter of discontent or Brexit, it affects us, the pursuit of power. You can write Love songs? Fair enough. 'Me songs' fair enough, 'You songs' yes. Song writing is subjective and encompasses a deeper level of communication than simple language. It is too restricting to deny political thinking when it affects your lives so much. We were or are that kind of band that questioned everything.

Ray: life is politics and anyone who thinks it shouldn’t be reflected in music – or any cultural pursuit – is one of two things. They are either a fool, or the people in power.

Abbo: Much of it is apolitical , music can be music alone , it’s a beautiful means to amuse , console , excite a listener , we just chose to write about the politics of life and the world as we saw it. I am sort of obsessed with a constant search for other music makers that do write about , and perhaps hold a small hope that they might change , our world .

Do you have any worldly advice you can leave with us?

Spon: The post covid world is going to be interesting. Hopefully the long talked about climate actions will kick in to reduce global warming if indeed you believe that is happening. I am in no doubt it is by the way. Get involved with new ideas, don't listen to nutty conspiracy theories. I can assure, the world is a globe. Don't take the first google or youtube video as fact. Stretch yourselves to find the sources from multiple factors and keep an open mind. Give your fellows and family a lift up if you possible can and above all try and have as much empathy as possible for each other.

Ray: Never give up.

Abbo: To quote a song on New Hope for the Dead ‘ song , ’never sleep with anyone crazier than yourself ‘, and what I say to anyone young and old is ’Never give up !’

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Steve Spon’s side Project Nostramus

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