ANNIVERSARY LISTEN: Ian Brown – Unfinished Monkey Business
INTERVIEW: James Atkin
The lasting impact of Manchester band The High and their recorded output is still loved by their adoring fans to this day. Singles Up & Down, Take Your Time and Box Set Go are classics of their generation including their masterful debut album Somewhere Soon. The following interviews were conducted as separate interviews by Matt Mead in 2015 & 2016. They have now been compiled into one to bring you the personal, compelling and humorous story of The High.
Can you tell me about your upbringing?
Chris Goodwin: Music was everywhere in our house growing up. My Dad was (is) a great singer and loved Frank Sinatra, my Mum was (is) into Shirley Bassey and The Carpenters. My 3 sisters (no brothers) were massive fans of Marc Bolan, David Bowie then later punk and my youngest sister Gill is a Paul Weller obsessive!! So i couldn’t have asked for a better grounding than listening to these artists booming out of every room. You can see from an early stage i wasn’t gonna take up stamp collecting, saying that i did a good racket with the green shield stamp books………(older viewers only)
Andy Couzens: No working class hero here! Middle class English suburbia.
Simon Davies: I was born in Urmston, Manchester and lived in and around that area until I was fourteen years old when the family moved out to Poynton, Cheshire. My upbringing was a mixture of Manchester suburbs and open fields, which I’ve always felt fortunate to have experienced as a kid.
What were your early music influences?
John Matthews: Having two older sisters meant there was all sorts of music being blasted out of different bedrooms and my Dad’s record player downstairs. Punk and new romantic from my sisters and big band jazz and disco from my Dads. Guitar bands from America were my biggest early influence such as REM, Rain Parade etc…These were the bands all my friends listened to and talked about.
Andy: Slade and Glam rock followed by Punk.
Simon: I did what every musically inclined kid who doesn’t have any older siblings does and gravitated toward my Dad’s record collection. The music that I found in there was Santana, The Who, Led Zeppelin, and some weird chanting stuff from Denmark – but that’s another story.
How did you get into playing music?
Andy: I couldn’t sing. Steve Jones/Roger McGuinn influenced me to play the guitar.
Chris: The first time i picked up two of my mums fat knitting needles and started whacking fuck out of a cushion (percussion) i knew 2 things. 1: I was gonna be a drummer & 2: I’ve just found out im allergic to dust.
In the school holidays me and a couple of mates used to work at the working mens club to earn a few free shandies, there was a concert room and a stage with a drum kit and an organ, the landlord was a top fella and we used to go in the games room playing snooker and playing the band kits, then when he nipped to the bookies i was off like a shot on that drum kit, it felt fantastic, it was a slingerland sparkley thing and it didnt make me come out in hives so that was the moment…..I’ll get a drum kit………well I’ll ask me mum for one.
Simon: My dad was a bass player in Manchester bands during the 1960’s. But in the 70’s he started to frequent the Ducie Arms pub where an older Irish guy named Danny (Shovlin, I believe was his surname) led a traditional Irish music session and mentored my dad to learn the violin. Dad soon joined a ceilidh band and would take me along with him to play at all these wild gigs that aside from being great fun for a nine-year-old kid, also proved important to my own musical development.
One evening the band took pity on me hanging around with nothing to do and so they invited me up onstage to “play” percussion (rattle a tambourine basically). It was a proud a moment to become a fully paid up member of the band as I saw it but it also turned out to be the first time that I became aware of the function that bass tones (which incidentally, due to the line-up of the band were actually coming from an accordion) play in cementing an entire band sound together. It was a “bricks and mortar” thing and for some reason I was drawn to it.
Sometime later an electric bass guitar appeared at home. I plugged it in and asked my Dad what to do and he replied, “Just start by playing some shapes, triangles are best.”
Were you in any other bands before The High?
Simon: Bits and pieces. The journey went something like a branch line train route: Poynton -> Stockport -> Manchester.
Andy: The Waterfront/The Fireside Chaps/Buzzcocks FOC!!
Chris: The first gig i played with was a band called Wheatsones Bridge, we played a load of sixties covers and got a residency at the famous Miners arms Oldham every Saturday, we were in the big time ha ha!!
I played with a lot of bands along the way all of which I’ve absolutely loved, one band in particular Asia Fields were a ramshackle bunch led by the fantastic Graham Maley who i think is a brilliant songwriter and singer. I played with The Jerks for a while who were ahead of their time and a brief spell with the Inspiral Carpets and an early version of The Stone Roses whom you may not have heard of……..oh yes and of course the fantastic Steve Diggle out of the Buzzcocks.
John: Turning Blue the first band I was in. A couple of friends rehearsed in a cellar and needed a new singer, I had always fancied a go and after a few drinks one Saturday night said I would come down and see what happened. Woke up Sunday morning with a very large feeling of dread, but something spurred me onto to go. It went well, and they agreed to give me a go. We did our first gig of mainly covers and I think one or maybe two of our own songs. The gig was only across the road from the cellar and was packed out with family and friends. A great night and brilliant introduction to playing live etc..
We recorded two demos at Clint Boon’s studio The Mill and played quite a few gigs in Manchester etc… It all ended when I decided to move away from the area.
How did you meet the rest of the members of The High?
Simon: Chris I knew from nights out at The Hacienda. I didn’t meet John until he joined the band.
Chris: How did we meet ??…well myself, Simon Davies and Andy Couzens were working with Steve Diggle and split and formed The High. I knew John from his fantastic band Turning Blue and the rest is history.
Andy: I knew Chris from going out in town, Simon is a mate of my brothers, John came via Chris. I didn’t know him before the band.
John: I met Chris Goodwin as he was drumming in a few bands around Manchester etc… Andy, Chris and Simon where playing in Buzzcocks FOC, but wanted to get on and write their own material. Chris called me and again I agreed to go down and give it a go, pretty much the same as the Turning Blue audition really, I was nervous, but they played some new material and I hummed and mumbled along.
Where any of you aware of Andy when he was in The Stone Roses?
John: I saw the Roses a couple of times after Andy had left. When I first met Andy I knew nothing about him or his connection to the band, probably for the better as it would have made me even more nervous.
Chris: ( Chris used to be in an early very of The Stone Roses) You wanna know about the roses thing dont you ?…………..you wanna know why i left the stone roses dont you ?……..i know people say to me , are you gutted that you left the roses etc???…and i always say one thing …..yes!!! I’m not bitter though……….im (Manchester) Utd……
What are your memories of the early days of The High?
Andy: They were good times.
John: Fucking great. After the first few rehearsals you really got the feeling for the songs and we were actually writing and finishing songs very quickly. They had something about them. The whole period was… erm… Fucking amazing !!!..
Simon: For me it was all about the writing process that in the beginning was very organic. I had all these chord sequences and bass riffs in my head, and in the very early days would go round to Andy’s house where the two of us would couple our ideas together to build basic song structures. At this point we were working almost exclusively acoustically, which was a nice way of doing it because it was so relaxed. What I found interesting was that we were taking different guitar and bass parts and combining them to make something new, evident in the groove that eventually became PWA for example.
As soon as we had enough parts that resembled a verse/chorus/bridge we’d rush down to the rehearsal room before we forgot them in order to work with Chris on the arrangements. One afternoon John walked in and within a couple of days our musical ideas had words to them and became songs.
After a few rehearsals I arrived home one evening and played my Dad the rehearsal cassette, which included a new song. When it had finished he looked at me and asked, “What’s the name of that one?” And I said, “Up and Down.” He’d heard stuff from previous bands but this time his reaction was completely different. I think that was the moment I realised we had something special.
Any stand out moments from the early days?
Simon: Anyone who’s ever written a song will tell you that the moment the music begins to flow is a very special one.
These days I do write complete songs but back then I was only interested in the collaborative approach. In that sense The High was a big gamble because we had absolutely no idea whether or not we could write songs together, much less make them flow. The moment that we realised we were capable of doing both was the biggest stand out moment for me.
One afternoon Martin Hannett burst into the rehearsal room and within a few days we were all setting up our instruments in Strawberry Studios Stockport doing the red-eye session with Martin producing and John Pennington (JP) engineering our demos. On the first night in between bass-takes, a kid with a metal tray sauntered into the control room. His presence didn’t seem to faze Martin or JP at all, which I thought was a bit odd. So I asked the kid which band he was with and he very nonchalantly replied, “I’m from The Waterloo pub”, and started going round collecting glasses. I just remember thinking, “Wow, they’ve really got this place set up properly.”
Were the songs all joint efforts or was there one main writer of the songs?
Andy: The songs were all bashed out in rehearsal and joint compositions all be it round riffs/chord progressions I introduced.
What were The High’s musical influences at the time?
Simon: I’d always really loved the early ‘Who songs and compilation albums that Track records put out with The Who on one side and Jimi Hendrix on the other. You could be listening to, “Call Me Lightning” one minute then flip the record over and hear “Remember”. I was heavily into The Small Faces and various vocal artists on the Immediate record label, like Chris Farlowe and PP Arnold. But then in the latter part of the 80’s a heck of a party got going in Manchester. All of a sudden we were listening to electronic dance music in an entirely different way if you get my meaning. Standing in The Hacienda and first hearing Charles B’s Lack Of Love was a turning point because there hadn’t been a time before that when electronic instrumentation had me immediately thinking, “Whooooaaaa! I’ve got to go home and learn how to play this bassline.” To say that it was a privilege to have been knocking around Manchester during that period would be a gross understatement.
How all of this new music went on to influence The High’s is difficult to say because of course we remained essentially a guitar band. Nevertheless, as a bass player I think it would have been impossible to be on a night out and hear tunes by Black Riot or Derrick May and not be influenced by them in some way. But back in the rehearsal room we just always tried to encourage each other to play from the heart.
What was it like being signed after your first gig at the Ritz in Manchester supporting Inspiral Carpets?
Simon: I was excited but extremely nervous; we’d only played one gig.
John: Don’t know why we were signed so early, but we played our first gig at The Ritz and Howard our manager had managed to get as many record companies there after sending them the demos etc… We then got signed..!
The High’s artwork is as senominus with their timeless music. Glenn Routledge was the artist behind these iconic Record sleeves, he takes up the story:
How were you asked to do the artwork for THE HIGH?
Glenn: I think it was by their first manager, when I went along to a video shoot to see them perfoming.
What was you inspiration behind each piece of work you did for THE HIGH?
Glenn: For each individual piece of work I cannot remember, but ‘Somewhere Soon’ was inspired by the sleeve for ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ on the recommendation of the band (or their manager!). The collage idea was something that I had developed over the years and I enjoyed the rough but documentative feel about them.
Your artwork on THE HIGH’s work had tinges of a Mod/Pop Art theme. Was that deliberate?
Glenn: Yes it was deliberate and that was done in stark contrast to rock themes.
I just remembered something that was amazing regarding Box Set Go and this is probably something that people will be interested in.
When I produced the artwork for Box Set Go, I wanted something minimalist and totally striking. So with the help of my partner Brendon we came up with the idea of three simple ‘traffic light’ dots in contemporary colours, but within a box, which was so simple but effective and not done before.
Returning from London, I stepped out of Manchester Piccadilly train station to see the hoardings covered in extra large posters for Box Set Go – a whole line of those striking images, definitely noticeable and certainly unavoidable. In fact they were in the best positions all over Manchester City Centre at the time!’
How was each design for THE HIGH’s work put together? Was everything made by hand or were computer design functions around at that time?
Glenn: At that time, everything was assembled by skilful hand, with the additional of photography and reprographic techniques. Computer design was around but not fully developed and you can see an early computer aided effect where the photographic image of the band is superimposed onto the manual design.
Did the THE HIGH as a band have much say in the design of the sleeve? Did you meet up with them to discuss this?
Glenn: Yes I think the band did have some say in the design and I did meet now and again, but to some extent this was controlled by their manager and London Records.
What’s your memories of being on the road? You toured with Inspiral carpets and played with The Happy Mondays at their massive outdoor gig at Leeds United’s Elland Road football ground. Any memorable stories to tell?
Andy: The tour was good fun. I’ve known Clint Boon for a long time. The Elland Road gig with the Mondays. It was a good day, from memory The La’s played too. I can’t remember a great deal of being on the road although John the dump springs to mind.
Simon: Back then I was very restless so life on the road suited me well. We had our fair share of calamities that’s for sure but it looks like all the printable ones have already been told.
John: Loads of great memories. Newcastle was not a good day really, we had played Glasgow the night before (I Think) and after the gig we did our usual partying. Back at the hotel I could feel my voice getting really sore… On the way to Newcastle I could hardly speak, never mind do a gig… I was told by everyone to rest, at the sound check I couldn’t manage a note, but we all agreed to go ahead, I suppose in the hope that my voice would come back.. I rested, but remember going into the toilet backstage and trying a few notes… Nothing !!!…. Went on stage and same again… Nothing.. I turned around and walked off, Andy, Chris and Simon stayed on for an instrumental and then came off… If I can remember rightly, Cressa coming on was suggested after they had all come off and the crowd were going mad…!!
Ex The High tour manager Steve Forster: We supported the Inspirals on their Arena tour, so we took in venues like the SECC in Glasgow, the Ally Pally and it was generally good fun, with a bit of time hanging about. So all being youngish lads Football was always on the agenda. I would say that Chris was the best player in the band (though I am sure they can argue about that!). Ally Pally was the venue where I seem to remember that we got fine £12 for breaking a light fitting in the dressing rooms. I think it was actually Clint that spooned the shot – but I am sure we paid the bill!
There were so many stories on the first couple of tours as the venues were of all different sizes in different locations. From the Brighton show we did – where Jezz our drum tech had taken too many substances and ended up on the roof of the hotel thinking he was a lion tamer. To Hull university with the full Spinal Tap moment – when you are walked by the porter through every section of the building to a lift where you literally opened the doors onto stage. Doing a gig at the ICA and parking the tour bus on the Mall (with Irish Number plates) and being stormed by the SAS (I remember Jayne Houghton our press officer getting that into the tabloids with the headline of High Jinx on The Mall – or something like that). Being banned from the Colombia hotel in London (which is practically impossible). Lots of stories for another time.
Engineer John Pennington worked extensively with The High on the road and in the studio.
John P: The touring was hard but fun. We toured really hard and played really hard too, we had a lot of fun with the other members of the crew. Very drunk nights and many experimental evenings of fun excess.
One night when staying at the Rock and Roll hotel of the moment ‘The Columbia In London i remember Simon and on the backline techs tied together all the bed sheets from their room and shinned down the basic rop into Candy Flips bedroom and emptied the mini bar.
Another night whilst on the hallucinogens we nearly lost on the backline tech after he decided he was going to jump off a high bridge in Glasgow. He was stopped but he thought he was a Lion and was growling at everyone. There was a night when one of the monitor engineers who was working with us decided to take a dump on the seat in the front lounge of the tour bus we were travelling in. He is still known as “John the Shit” to The High.
The Paris show was a interesting one. After we had done the show, the promoter who must have felt bad that Andy had been attacked whilst on stage by one of the audience so he supplied a bottle of Mescal and some bottles of champagne which we all drank and spent the next few days trying to get back to England.
What was it like working with Martin Hannett and the overall recording of Somewhere Soon?
Andy: We winged it abit. I had worked with Martin before and found him very inspirational in the studio. Recording was always my favourite bit and the Manor (The Manor in Oxford was also used by Mike Oldfield aand Paul Weller) was fantastic. I could’ve moved in.
Chris: We had some amazing times working with some cool people none more mind blowing than Martin Hannett.
One particular Martin moment which stands out was: we were recording Up and Down in Strawberry Studios and i was playing the kit. He was umming and arring, shaking his head, coming in and out of the control room and I’m saying ’what’s up Martin?’…’I’m not getting the right colour’ …..’eh ?’…i said….’it’s not right something is not right with the overheads’ said Martin. Now martin always used two overhead mics as ambient sound only he uses a cigarette butt in between the two mics, like a sandwich.
Martin then decides to go to the pub whilst I’m told to keep pounding away on the kit and not to stop. 2 hours later Martin stumbles through the studio, ‘hang on a minute. hang on a min’ he then pulls out the ciggie butt, inspects it, then says ‘….ahh, thought so !!’…..I’m like ‘what ???(sweating me nads off )’…….’this is an Embassy Regal cig’……..I’m like yea???’………’I only use Camel cigs!!!!…….lets record !!!’
John P: I was house engineer at Strawberry. I was Martin Hannett’s favourite engineer and i’d worked with him on a few projects, notably the Happy Mondays album Bummed and i turned that project (with a few programming techniques) from slay happy to something that was more solid and something people could dance to.
Martin and I got on very well together; I was his first choice for The High project.
The High were from around my neighbourhood, we had family connections through my sister, who had known Andy for years and she knew The Stone Roses very well, so when i met The High we hit it off immediately. The Box Set Go session was great!!! And even though John Williams was also involved in the latter part of it, it was easy to see that the band were going to be a huge success!. I really enjoyed recording them and mixing them live. They were the reason I left Strawberry Studios
The time spent in the Manor Studios was i think a highlight. We spent every day for a month working on Somewhere Soon and the weather was great! We had fun recording that album and adding great instrumentation to the songs . The weekends were off so we had lots of fun trying our hardest to empty the wine cellar. I think the bill for the wine was more than the recording costs.
Was it true that around the time of the 2nd album you took a whole sheet of acid tabs John?
John: Not a “Whole” one…
What happened with Hype and the musical change?
Andy: I lost the plot and no one else had one.
John: Really can’t say exactly where and when this happened as such, but record company involvement and change of producers attributed to this.
Simon: The situation was complex. I’ve never felt that the production of Hype had anything to do with the songs that we initially went in with. But just around the time that we started planning the second album, Martin died suddenly.
He’d been with us from the beginning and when he passed away we didn’t just lose our producer, we lost a friend. Without Martin’s influence things seemed to change rapidly and the management/production/record company situation became intricate. I suppose once it transpired that the production process of Hype was overtly shaping the writing process, we should have walked away from it, but whether or not any of us had the stomach at that point (or the energy quite frankly) for breaking contract, is another question. What I can say quite categorically, however, is that the sound of Hype wasn’t pre-planned. There was never a moment when the four of us sat down together and said, “Hey, let’s make a hair-metal album.”
Why did The High split up?
Simon: In terms of the actual split, it came at the end of a long sequence of events when all of a sudden there were more reasons to part company than stay together. But in terms of the origins of the split I’ve long held the view that this had its roots in signing a major recording contract after playing only one gig. The pressure was immense and gave us too big a mountain to climb. There’s very little else that I can add.
Chris: I loved my time with The High, we wrote some timeless songs which i still think sound relevant and cool today.
Indeed, the lasting impact is felt by thousands of fans, including world famous skateboarder Corey Duffell:
When did you first hear THE HIGH?
Corey: I actually didn’t discover Somewhere Soon til thirteen years after it was released. When I heard it for the first time i was blown away that something so great slipped through the cracks for so many people. I’ve turned so many friends onto The High, that never heard of them either. I am a big Martin Hannett fan and was reading some stuff and the name The High was mentioned, so i started looking everywhere for something by the band. Finally, I found a copy of Somewhere Soon off eBay. It is quite hard to find a lot of uk pressings here in the states and was even harder years ago, before eBay and Discogs were stockpiled with every thing you could imagine.
What was it about THE HIGH’s music that you connected with the most?
Corey: The song writing is brilliant and the production is amazing. Somewhere Soon, is a masterpiece to me, and i can listen to it five times in a row, and it gets better every listen. One of those records that doesn’t get boring and I hear something new every time. The guitar work is really amazing. Listen to “This Is My World” and tell me you didn’t feel anything during the song. Truly they are up there with the greats of the early britpop, and shoegaze movement.
What are the favourite tracks by THE HIGH?
Corey: A Minor Turn The Martin Hannett session is my favourite for sure. I actually really wanted to use it in a skateboard video part in 2007, but I could not get the rights from the label. I always thought it would have been a beautiful song for a part. Dreams Of Denish, starts off side two Like a kick to the balls. Wakes you the fuck up and gets you ready for another few songs. Somewhere Soon, as the ender is just great, and when i hear it, I know it’s almost time to flip it back to side one for another go.
Since this interview was conducted The High reformed with John and Andy to successfully play Shiiine On weekender 2016 plus new material has been released in the form of a couple of singles including Kiss The Sun and Say It Now which was released for 2018’s Record Store Day. Chris made a drumming comeback with John to reform One Summer for Manchester’s famed Vinyl Revival 20th anniversary bash in 2017. Simon lives and breaths in and around London, he’s yet to make a musical comeback.