The Comsat Angels, C.S. Angels, The Headhunters, Dream Command...  All this & more

Mik Glaisher interviewed by Mark Finnigan on 10th October 2002, exclusively for the Sleep No More website.

Questions submitted by subscribers to the Sleep No More mailing list.

Part 1

Mark Finnigan - "Okay the first question is from Alan Skeets – I have always been puzzled by the 45 degree turn away from the tribal style of Mik’s drumming on the early albums, to the more straight forward style of the later albums. Was this an evolution or an enforced revolution, or did the songs just lend themselves to the earlier style."

Mik – "This is quite common. I know exactly what they mean but the thing is if you do the same drums all the time it kind of limits the rest of the band to doing the same roles that they do – people fall into roles with the patterns that they play, you know. If I play a tom-tom orientated drum part, then Kevin used to play a certain bass line. If we did that forever the band would get completely bored with it and am sure so would the listeners. You can’t stand still."

MF - "Alan Skeets again –It’s seven years since the break up and I can’t believe a drummer of Mik’s stature hasn’t had offers to join other bands. Has he and why didn’t he?"

Mik – "Well the answer is I haven’t had one offer to join any band, which you would call a band, until recently. I got an offer to join Chicken Legs Weaver which I took and I was grateful for the offer. I think its great and I’m really enjoying it."

MF - "How did that gig go then?"

Mik – "It was really good, I was so nervous. I was marching round the gig not knowing what to do saying like ‘let’s do it now!’ No, it was great, it was really good. I didn’t make one mistake which is not bad with 14 numbers and only six rehearsals."

MF – "So it was the first time you’ve played live in seven years?"

Mik – "First time I’ve played live since the Comsats gig in Swindon in ’95. Funny thing is once you’re on stage it’s like you’ve never been away – it’s all there again …"

MF - "Alan Jones asks – What is your favourite era of the Band’s career?"

Mik – "The first album, because it was all so new and so good for the band. A band wants to get somewhere, to get a record deal and get an album out and then everybody go crackers about it. It was just a wonderful feeling, it’s like a quantum leap from obscurity to national press. So, without a doubt, the first album and the time around the first album."

MF – "Some people may be a bit surprised by that, because a typical fan might think you would prefer Sleep No More and perhaps see that as your album because of the drums?"

Mik - "Yeah, I thought it was a great album to do after the first album. It would have been tempting to do like another Waiting For A Miracle part 2 sort of thing. I know what you mean about the second album but I think the thrill of it all was based around the first album. I actually thought the music on Waiting For A Miracle was more original than Sleep No More. I thought Sleep No More was almost written with the sound of the album in mind, music almost tailored for a sound, whereas with Waiting For A Miracle we had much longer to get the album together than the second."

MF – "Thank Mik for his enormous contribution to the Comsats sound and for the amazing versatility that he brings to his trade, an example being the enormous sound of Dark Parade as a contrast to the glorious, understated, you’d never know it was there, subtlety of Pray for Rain. There wern’t any drums on that, were there?" [laughter]

Mik - "There were absolutely no drums on Pray For Rain." [laughter]

MF – "But you’ve always said you made a decision not to play on that."

Mik – "Yeah."

MF - "Percussionist decision though isn’t it?"

Mik – "Yeah, oh yeah I was always big enough to know when not to play." [laughter]

MF – "We’ll try a little scatter gun approach as some people sent a list of questions. This is from Rolf - Love the drumming parts in most of the Comsat Angels albums. At what age did you start making music and was that playing drums?"

Mik - "I had some piano lessons when I was a child but I hated them. I used to play very percussively and loud but I’d always wanted to play drums since I was about eight, even before actually. I used to love it and I loved seeing drums on TV in those big jazz bands. So exciting and my parents wouldn’t let me play drums, too noisy. Basically it was piano or nothing. That was the sort of deal, so I actually started playing drums when I was about seventeen. I took it really seriously when I was about nineteen and put more practice in then. I was always interested but it was definitely nineteen when I started taking it seriously."

MF - "Which music or band influenced you the most?"

Mik – "The Rolling Stones probably as a child. Well at an earlier age because the drums were quite clear on their records, you could actually hear what the bass drum was doing and things like that, you couldn’t on a lot of records. Things like Honky Tonk Woman with a cow bell on the beginning and the drums dropping a slow funky beat is the sort of thing which would have actually influenced me. Having said that, earlier in life wanting to play drums like the big bands. Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich - drummers like that, fast and furious and really rhythmic. So there’s never really been one. I used to like Ringo for his simplicity - proof that you can have simple sparse drums on quality material. Listening to some Beatles tracks now especially stuff on Sergeant Pepper, there are tracks the Beatles did which are like the drums on Total War, just simple but in strange places. Later I used to like drummers like Jaki Leibezeit in Can. He was fantastic, so mesmeric. The strokes he used to do, so unusual he would put beats in places no other drummer would. Oh and Sooty!" [laughter]

MF - "Not Animal then from the Muppets?"

Mik - "No. Animal did drums a disservice, he destroyed all Sooty's good work!"

MF- "What do you consider the peak of the Comsats career?"

Mik – "The peak? I’ll be very harsh on myself - it was Sleep No More. I don’t think things were quite the same after Sleep No More and I could go on for hours telling you why I think that but if the band had split after Sleep No More, it would have been known as one of the greatest album ever made. The fact that we stayed together longer and made more albums, in a strange way it some how dissipates the quality of something like that."

MF – "A lot of us would disagree..."

Mik – "Yes, a lot of the questions suggest that some albums were better than others. I mean how long should a band exist for, did the Comsat Angels exist for far too long? But we’ll go into that another time!"

MF – "Okay, in contrast, what was the rock bottom of the Comsat Angels?"

Mik – "Rock bottom ? Artistically as opposed to spiritually, I think when we started on Jive records I wasn’t quite aware of the regime that they imposed upon us to tow the commercial line. I have regrets about it. When we signed, I was keen to sign for them but I don’t think I knew fully what was expected of us and I used to get pretty down about it and also on Polydor we had one album out every year and there was always plenty to do all year round. Writing, gigs and then with them we managed to get Land out, again at a years gap then there was this awful period between their disappointment with Land’s performance and wondering what to do next and trying to get something else together which was basically some success by some singles. All of a sudden I felt the whole thing had been taken out of our hands – you know it was an abject time really."

MF – "It was nearly two years wasn’t it?"

Mik – "It was the first time I got sort of professional depression. I actually got down about the slowness of everything and the music sounded so ‘poppy’ and as much as you tried to make tracks sound like more powerful the whole production seemed to win the day. It was all pop and layered vocals, and pleasant sounding guitars and nice keyboards and all that. You know, I think it’s a credit to the band that we came out with the music we did on those Jive albums. I think they could have been really awful records rather than records not as good as they could have been."

MF – "Is there a chance of the band re-forming ever, in your view?"

Mik – "I know people like the idea of re-forming years after they existed, but I’d rather do an album than do gigs. But I don’t think that will happen anyway, as much as it would be nice, well more than nice actually. People have trouble with moving backwards. The biggest cliché you’ll ever hear is ‘moving on’. Whatever that means, on to what? Or away from what? I don’t think so. It’s a kind of nice day dream though."

MF - "Tony Kinson asked – What tracks would you put on a compilation album for someone who had never heard the Comsat Angels?"

Mik - "I’d just lend them the last one we did. [laughter] I’ve got a problem with that. I can’t do that, there are a few bands I can’t do that with. Make me a best of REM say, I can’t because I mean they’re a band who’ve virtually only done one crap album in their life and they’ve done about ten albums now."

MF – "Back to the Comsat’s compilation – which songs?"

Mik – "I couldn’t really. I would have to have some sort of theme to it. I could be selfish and put the ones with my favourite drumming, even though the ones with my favourite drumming aren’t my favourite songs. Not because its the drumming, [much laughter] but just because that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. I used to love the drums to More on the third album but I was never fond of the song – I think it was under produced. I think it sounded dry and tinny. I got slagged off for it anyway, the journalists said I was just ripping off Flowers of Romance by Public Image and if you actually listen it’s a different rhythm for a start. More is more old fashioned rock and roll rhythm, more Buddy Holly."

MF – "Who said that?"

Mik – "Lynden Barber of the Melody Maker."

MF – "What music are you listening to at the moment?"

Mik – "Oh, right, crikey, so many things, more old stuff. When I say old I mean long before I was born, twenties jazz stuff, really far back. I listen to loads of 50’s and 60’s jazz, I love that stuff, the invention and improvisation of all that. Lots of new bands, White Stripes, Johnny Dowd an American singer/songwriter guy. I like the band I’ve just joined. Anything that’s a bit rocky and a bit fresh really. I like the Strokes."

MF – "Top 5 albums of all time, could you do that?"

Mik – "I could name a few – couple of Beatles wouldn’t go amiss. Revolver, most of the Beatles albums. Not so much of The Stones albums though. I always thought they were more of a singles band, although a lot of Stones fans would disagree with me. Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, Kinda Blue by Miles Davis, My Favourite Things by John Coltrane, anything by Sarah Vaughn. Joy Division’s first album, Elvis Costello’s second album there are hundreds of them really, too difficult to pick five. Oh, and of course Hearsay!!"

MF – "Are you aware that to a lot of people the world over, the Comsat Angels music was, and still is very important and has given a lot pleasure over the years?"

Mik – "Well, I’m getting more aware of it since I met you, yeah, that’s nice. There is a strangeness between someone who’s in a band who other people like. It won’t be the same reasons, you know even though I strongly relate to the band. It isn’t the same way as people who are fans of the band. So when you’ve lived it, it’s your work, your ideas and aspirations, so its nice that people like the band’s stuff. The only thing that was missing was more success really because I think we had sustained quality with our material. You know, in a way its of its time but in another way its bigger than that. There’s over a decade between the first and last albums, it’s like a diary of where we were musically at that time."

MF – "Do you still keep in touch with any band members?"

Mik – Yeah, Andy is still a friend of mine, he doesn’t live too far away. I don’t see Steve and I don’t see Kev. I see Terry a lot, I don’t see Simon as much but he and Hilary have had a baby boy – Jude. So I think Simon is really happy, he’ll be really happy about that. He doesn’t play live anymore or in a band or anything. He’s a great bloke, he’s an example. He’s so kind & calm and a very generous person as well."

MF – "With the magic of hindsight would you have done anything different when you with the Comsat Angels?"

Mik – "Yeah! I would have insisted that we were more professional from the outset – respected the golden opportunity we had more, instead of taking if for granted."

MF – "Things like Jive?"

Mik – "Yeah, I wouldn’t have signed for them with hindsight, it was just something we did at the time."

MF – "What about Island?"

Mik – "I wouldn’t have signed for them either."

MF – "But I always thought when you signed with them - At last the label that might understand them."

Mik - "It wasn’t though, it wasn’t the label it used to be."

MF – "Right, another question, this time from Kate Booth, who asks – What was it like working with Robert Palmer?"

Mik –" I never really worked with him [laughter]. Do you want the truth? Next question! It was really quite incongruous. I didn’t really think Robert’s music had much to do with the Comsats – even though he really loved the Comsats. He loved the Comsats far more than the Comsats loved Robert Palmer. It was quite a wheeze meeting him, it was quite flattering someone famous likes you and comes a long way to see your gig. He came from France to Holland one night to watch us which was really nice but he was really into the Island deal, but I didn’t think the association did us much good and certainly, well, musically he sang one small piece on one song, You’ll Never Know but that was it really as far as I was concerned. Steve had a closer relationship with him and I think they tried to write material together."

MF - "Steve helped to write a few songs for one album."

Mik – "Yeah, I had precious little to do with him. I didn’t quite understand what the relationship meant."

MF - "Elliot Wheeler asks – What do you remember about the rotating headlining tour with The Sound in 1981? Was it a good experience?"

Mik – "No, not really, it was confusing, it was actually a compromise. It was supposed to be 3 bands of similar sort of popularity doing bigger halls, and all we were doing was playing in halls we’d played in at the beginning of the year. So it was kind of pointless. There were these rotating headliners - some people didn’t like the Comsats and vice versa and people turned up and had missed the band they wanted to see. If you were a Comsat fan you presumed they were going on last and it was all right, but it wasn’t my favourite tour, there was that confusion about it."

MF - "Elliot Wheeler again – Your lowest ebb Jive or Dream Command?"

Mik - "Well, I think I had been hardened against future disappointments by the 7 Day Weekend experience. In fact one night we went to see the Long Ryders. I was so excited by this four piece band on stage knocking out this music at the Mean Fiddler that when I got back to the studio later, I just went into this strange mood. I started destroying the leisure room – I threw this beaker at the video player which was miles away and it hit it full on – I mean the chances of doing it again are about million to one. I’d be there about a 1,000 cups later still missing. It crashed straight into the controls and broke it – the studio manager Chris next morning came in and went berserk and that was it. I was just so frustrated, I was watching these guys down there rocking and rolling and everyone enjoying it, and it was so exciting and all the excitement had gone from us and it was just locked in the studio with machines playing the music. In fact they used to hire session men without our permission – and this guy turned up, he looked like something out of BayWatch, to do backing vocals, this kid. Steve had a fit and came to me and said what do you think about them using another singer on the track and I said well, they are not using me. In fact let’s get everyone on, in fact lets make a point and have none of the band on it!!"

MF - "They used a couple of women singers."

Mik – "Oh yeah, Stevie on Day One, she also sang on I Love a Man in Uniform."

MF - "What is your favourite Comsat Angels track? Is it possible to answer that?"

Mik – "Hard to say, there are a couple very well sung, meaningful and convincing. I like the weird things, Monkey Pilot, & Dark Parade, I loved that. And soft tracks, a delicate side to the band which I really enjoyed, such as After The Rain, Pictures, tracks like that, you know. Carried Away that sort of bracket of song. Cutting Edge, that was just a jam in the studio."

MF – "Really?"

Mik – "The instrumentation – Steve had the song. That was two takes spliced together. Late night jazzy blues feel to it. When I’m listening to the Comsats it would be that sort of thing."

MF – "Do you listen to it now?"

Mik – "Hardly ever actually, hardly ever. I would never listen to it if I was on my own. I would play it to other people. It’s not because I don’t like it or anything its because I lived with it for so long."

MF – "If you had an opportunity to play with another band, who would you play with?"

Mik – "Who would I play with? Do you mean who has ever existed or who is around today?"

MF – "Who has ever existed."

Mik – "Oh, Jimi Hendrix then – laughter – yeah, that would be all right. Wouldn’t have to worry about the band projecting or anything then would you?! Just sit back and play drums – Jimi would do everything!"

MF - There’s an essay from Rob in New Zealand. He’s a drummer – question – The heavy tom sound of Sleep No More and Dark Parade heavily influenced me. I couldn’t understand why when a band with one of the best and most innovative rhythm sections around changed direction to something less invigorating."

Mik – "Does he mean the Jive albums?"

MF – "I think so – although he says part way through Fiction he can pick that up the change. I don’t agree with him on that!"

Mik - "I think Fiction was a very over rated album. It was badly recorded, it didn’t sound that great, it didn’t know where it was going. I mean where do you go from Sleep No More? There’s two ways you go, either completely different or you make it even heavier than Sleep No More, twice as ‘boomy’ but people really liked that album. We were even struggling on that album to get enough tracks together to release it. I’m sure Pete Wilson wasn’t as into that album as he was to the previous two. It was, get an album out every year, you never really had chance to look round. People really liked that album. It was just a jam really – the jam was there before the song, Steve wrote what’s on there to the jam. Tracks like Zinger which again were rough jams with a few ideas at the last minute. I think sometimes, it came together strangely, you know, you don’t rate it, you think you will have to work on it before it can become a finished thing."

MF – "What Else!? is a great track."

Mik - "I really like that, we always play that live all the way through. Bird Man yeah, I kinda half liked it, but it’s got a massive middle bit that goes on forever."

MF - "So we’ve been through half an album you don’t like and found that you really like the songs?!" [ Laughter]. I reckon Fiction sums up the first part of your career - you’ve got elements of Waiting for A Miracle, elements of Sleep No More and in some songs both elements come together."

Mik – "Maybe it should have been the second album."

MF – "There is some really heavy drumming and dark sides to it but within the songs you get those dynamics then you get the ‘poppy’ end."

Mik – "We got slated by Melody Maker by Lynden Barber - a friend – who just said it was shit. But then NME gave it 5 stars and he’d never written about the band before to my knowledge, before the review of that album."

MF – "It’s got After The Rain as well, what a great song."

Mik – "Yeah, but then the quiet ones are my favourites, but then again I like What Else!?."

MF – "So folks, we’ve talked Mik back into liking Fiction then?! Another question - Did you want to experiment with using drum machines?"

Mik – "Oh yeah, good things came out of it, like Mr Memory, you can only do that with a drum machine. It worked so well and only took 2 minutes to convey the idea to put on the machine. I suggested that the bass line was tighter than the bass drum giving it that sort of relentlessness without too much identity."

MF – "From Phil – Which Comsat album were you happiest with."

Mik – "The Glamour. It was lovely to do Chasing Shadows after the Jive albums, more basic again."

MF -"Do you think the Comsats had some place musically to go after The Glamour?"

Mik – "Yeah, as soon as you’ve done one album, it’s like decorating your house, as soon as you’ve got one room right you drift on to the next. It’s like that with albums. It would have been a great album the next one, I could tell already with the songs we were getting through."

MF – "Some of those you previewed on that last tour?"

Mik – Yeah, Helicopters. I mean on that tape from the Mean Fiddler both the audio and the video, sounds great anyway."

MF – "Took me a while to work out it’s a drug song as well. Isn’t it?"

Mik – "Mmm..."

MF - "I thought was the same subject matter as Dark Parade –military helicopters arriving etc."

MF – "When Kev left was it hard to strike up an understanding with Terry?"

Mik – "No."

MF – "What about feelings when Kev left?"

Mik - "I was a little surprised he didn’t actually leave saying, nothings happening, I’ve given it my best shot - I’m into studio stuff now and that’s it. I had left the band for a while and done some stuff with Jenny Jones, singer songwriter, but I still used to listen to My Minds Eye. I may not have been in the band, and been in this folky thing & I was listening to My Minds Eye on tape and thinking I should be playing that and not what I’m playing . And I just knew Kev wouldn’t be into it anymore, so we had to think seriously of getting some musicians in. Something to fatten it up."

Thanks to Mark Finnigan & Mik Glaisher for the interview, and to everyone from the Sleep No More mailing list who contributed questions.

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