The Outsiders : Interview with Adrian Janes (PennyBlack)
The Outsiders were little known and were underrated during their lifetime. In the years since their break-up in 1979, the group, who formed originally in 1973 under their original name of Syndrome in Wimbledon in South London, have gone through a slow, but partial change of fortunes.
Part of this is because the Outsiders were the first band of singer-songwriter Adrian Borland. His next band the Sound and his later solo career have also gone through a revival of interest since the suicide of Borland, who suffered from an afflictive schizoid disorder, at the age of 41 in 1999, and the reissue of the Sounds back catalogue a few years later. Some of this increased acknowledgement in the Outsiders also stems from the fact that with their 1977 first album, Calling On Youth, which was recorded by Borlands supportive father Bob at home, they are sometimes too now seen to be the first punk band to self-release an album.
This increased interest in the Outsiders has now developed a step further with the reissue earlier this year by Cherry Red Records of Calling On Youth (with their 1977 only EP One to Infinity) and 1978 second and final album, Close Up, which like its predecessor came out on the Borlands Raw Edge label. As well as Borland, who was the guitarist and vocalist, the Outsiders consisted of Bob Lawrence on bass and Adrian Janes on drums and who also wrote the majority of the bands lyrics.
The group had an often aggressive sound and included in their set a cover of the Stooges Raw Power, which when they played it at one gig at the short-lived, but infamous London punk club The Roxy found them joined on stage by Iggy Pop. They were always more, however, than simply just another punk act, experiment-ing widely and incorporating ballads and other genres including funk, prog and hard and soft rock into their sound. They were sometimes as a result scorned in conventional punk circles, and received bad reviews in the music press.
Bob Lawrence left the Outsiders in mid 1978, shortly after the recording of Close Up, and his place in the group was taken by Graham Bailey, who went on to be-come the bassist in the Sound and also to join Borland in an electronic side project, Second Layer. Bi Marshall (who became the keyboardist in the Sound, and was replaced in 1981 by Colvin Max Mavers) joined later that year on clarinet. The Outsiders broke up in mid 1979 when Adrian Janes also left and evolved immediately afterwards into the Sound.
In what is his first full interview, Pennyblackmusic spoke to Adrian Janes about the Outsiders.
PB: How do you feel with thirty years perspective looking back on the Outsiders' catalogue? Are there any songs from either of the two albums or the EP that you are especially fond of?
AJ: Im actually quite proud now of the majority of what we did. We were basically self-taught musicians and were very much learning as we went along. Adrian was 21 and Bob and I both 20 by the time our recording career ended, so I think that should be borne in mind when rating us. Critics at the time seemed to think we should have been a fully mature band from the start. The fact that weve had some very positive reviews this time around helps me believe that we were on to something worthwhile and distinctive. For us the music always came first, and part of the negativity we faced in the 70s was the lack of an acceptable image or any real showmanship. Now all that people have to judge us by is the music we seem to be getting over better.
On Calling On Youth, I guess my favourites are the title track, Break Free, Start Over and Im Screwed Up. The song Calling On Youth got slated as naive, but it wasnt meant to be a thoroughgoing political analysis, just something inspi-rational, and I think it works on that level. I feel the album has quite a range of emotion and styles which the other songs Ive mentioned collectively show. I also like Terminal Case a lot. We wrote that when we were 17 and its just got such energy and love for rock music. The fact that it feels on the brink of falling apart at times is part of its charm for me!
New Uniform is my favourite from the EP. Adrian came up with a great ringing guitar figure for the song, and I think the lyrics are quite strong. Apart from a cou-ple of details, the theme of the pressure to conform when youre young is pretty much perennial. As for Close Up, I chiefly like the groove of Touch and Go, the drive of Count for Something, the power and the energy in Out of Place, the dynamics of Keep the Pain Inside (Adrians guitarwork is especially expressive on this) and the ambition and energy in Conspiracy of War. Overall Im happy with most of whats on our records, notwithstanding faults I can hear in them now. The only songs I dont much care for nowadays are On the Edge and Consequences.
PB: Cherry Red have recently released both Outsiders albums and the 'One to Infinity' EP on CD for the first time. You provided quotes for some of the sleeve notes. How involved otherwise were you in these reissues? Were you surprised when after all this time Cherry Red showed an interest in releasing them, or did it seem almost inevitable since the growing interest in Adrian's music and all the recent Sound reissues that something would eventually happen?
AJ: Rients Bootsma of the Brittle Heaven website http://www.brittleheaven.com (which focuses on Adrian but obviously brings in a lot of information about the groups he played with) emailed me a list of questions, and the quotes are all taken from my answers. I wasnt really involved otherwise, other than to consent to Bob Borland conducting negotiations with Cherry Red as the Outsiders representative.
Cherry Red seem to have quite a focus on reissues nowadays, and as I think they began in the days of the original independent explosion in the late 70s. I guess theres a fit there with the era when we were around. Plus there is something of an historical connection, in that they put a song of ours on a compilation that came out in 1979, and also released Second Layers World of Rubber album in 1981.
Having said all that, it still comes as something of a surprise to see our records in CD format, but very pleasing as well especially when they are now getting some positive reactions. The internet has been very important in exposing music and musicians to people who never heard them before. Some people have uploaded Outsiders songs to YouTube, and its just fantastic to see some of the great comments theyve received, especially when you see that many were only made in the last couple of years.
PB: In the Outsiders you provided most of the lyrics for the band, while Adrian wrote most of the music. How did you write the majority of the songs? Did you write separately and then get together to see what worked best together, or did you compose all the songs collectively? How did Bob Lawrence fit into the song writing?
AJ: Mainly I would write lyrics and give them to Adrian, who would then go away and compose music to them. We regularly rehearsed and jammed together, so in those sessions he would then present what hed come up with and wed gradually turn that into a complete song, so that was where the collective side came in. I imagine the jamming and improvising gave him further ideas in turn. Bob didnt write anything as such, but he devised his own bass lines. To be honest I dont really remember much in the way of discussions about the songs or musical direction. We must have had them, but my actual memory is the process Ive described. We began like that when we still at school, and it just intensified when we were trying to make it in the music business.
PB: The Outsiders sat on the cusp of the punk genre. There was an element of that sound in your songs, Adrian Borland in particular was a huge Stooges fan and you played gigs regularly at the Roxy and Vortex. You, however, extended with your music into other genres and areas than simply punk. How much of that do you think brought about the negative attitude of many of the other punks towards the Outsiders, and how much of it was inverted class snobbery and the fact that you all came from middle class rather than working class backgrounds?
AJ: To be fair, when we first started playing in London we had very little live ex-perience, so I doubt if we came over that well. Part of gaining experience is learning pacing and how to put together a set, which we only gradually acquired. Plus there was a bias in the punk scene towards fast, aggressive material. A few years earlier or later we might have gone over better with more of a mixture of songs like there is on our albums, but we happened to be trying to break into a world where certain conventions dominated for a couple of years. I dont think class was a factor in audience reaction (or rather indifference), apart from in the minds of people like Julie Burchill. All three of us went to a grammar school, but that doesnt automatically make you middle class. My own background is working class, but in this country once you get beyond a certain level of education that in itself seems to be thought to be crossing the class line. Adrians parents gave the band financial backing, which was very important, but they werent rich.
PB: As late in the Outsiders' career as early 1978 and until finally you got a good live review from Mick Mercer in 'NME' you received no positive press. On 'New Uniform' from the 'One to Infinity' EP you tackled some of your critics. Was the backlash against the Outsiders something which bothered the group a lot or did you have enough inner faith in yourselves to not let it faze you? How much of a fan base did you have? Did you see a lot of the same people at gigs?
AJ: Actually I have a note in the band scrapbook I maintained of a good review in Time Out in October 1977. Unfortunately the reviews been lost! But your general point about the press is correct. New Uniform is really about the conformism that we observed in the punk scene (especially appearance-wise), not a comment on the music press. I guess the word backlash might be justified in terms of some of the printed reactions to us, but live I think indifference was more the problem. We never had bottles thrown at us or got spat on! You had to work really hard to get some response out of people, but by late 1977 and into 1978 I think wed become accomplished enough to get a pretty good response at most gigs. But the gigs continued to be on a small scale for the most part. Our fans tended also to be friends of ours anyway, so those are the people I can recall seeing regularly.
Although we had enough faith in ourselves to keep writing and recording songs, I guess the hope that we could make a musical career was gradually eroded by press hostility and the slow rate at which we were reaching the public. Adrian was the most driven of the three of us, but even he was considering other options by 1980. Fortunately the Sound at last got a deal that year. But to return to internet comments briefly, there are things Ive read on music blogs that do suggest that perhaps we were getting across to more people than we were aware of at the time.
PB: There is a famous story about the Outsiders being joined one night on stage in September 1977 at the Roxy by Iggy Pop on 'Raw Power'. Were you as "blown away" as Adrian also said he was in a latter day interview? What do you remember about the experience?
AJ: I remember wed launched into Raw Power when suddenly this brown-shirted flash came from upstairs at the club and seized the mic. It seems bizarre now, but I think we just kept on playing rather than being paralysed by shock! Like the Godfather of Punk just happened by at all our gigs. It was quite an experience, but it was most special for Adrian as hed idolised Iggy since Raw Power first came out. I can quote from the scrapbook: During Raw Power Iggy joined us to blast through it, which inspired us into our best performance of the set. Gig as a whole was rather lacklustre, however, the Roxy being as dead as ever. So it was a high point, but in the context of a basically humdrum night.
PB: Calling On Youth' is often seen to be the first self-release by a punk band. Adrian's dad is dismissive of this as the albums and EP were released on Raw Edge, a company which he and his wife Win owned rather the Outsiders. Would you agree with him? How involved were the Outsiders in the day to day running of Raw Edge?
AJ: I think it depends on how precisely you want to define things. Bob, Adrians dad, is right in legal and practical terms, but in common parlance people speak of a band releasing a record when its actually released by Island or whoever. It cer-tainly was an independent record. But as a label it wasnt functioning like, say, Stiff, trying to build a roster of artists. It purely existed as a vehicle for Outsiders releases, where Bob I think took care of the business side and Adrian did what he could promotionally. One important example of this was that he got to know Geoff Travis of Rough Trade who were also in their early days and were very important in giving new bands exposure through stocking and distributing their records, as they did with ours.
PB: Calling On Youth' and the 'One to Infinity' EP were very successfully recorded in the Borlands' home with Adrian's dad working as an engineer. Why did you decide, presumably at much greater expense, to shift to Spaceward, a studio in Cambridge to record 'Close Up'?
AJ: In lieu of Bob Borland, thank you for the compliments! I think it was just reasoned that a proper studio production would be able to showcase our songs better. Having said that, we didnt get along brilliantly with the engineer, who to our mind wanted to use too much studio technology to enhance what we were doing. Our aim was still for quite an unadorned sound, just better recorded, which I think was achieved.
PB: Adrian began to show symptoms of afflictive schizoid disorder from the mid 80s. You knew him from school, and describe him with great affection in 'The Book of (Happy)Memories' (a collection of reminiscences from family and friends that was published by a Dutch fan Willemien Spook in 2000 a year after Adrian Borlands death-Ed).as being completely music enthusiastic and obsessed from an early age, his guitar rarely leaving his hands even during food breaks at rehearsal. With hindsight do you think that there were any early signs of his mental illness in the Outsiders, or do you see it as something that developed ultimately later?
AJ: Not during the Outsiders days, no. The first time I got a clue that something was wrong was in 1984. The band had kindly invited me along on a short European tour. In return for helping to roadie, I basically got a free holiday and the chance to see them play in several countries, starting at the Park Pop festival in Den Haag. On the ferry over to Holland I remember that Adrian was speaking with a peculiar intensity about things - the topics arent important, but it was his strange manner that disturbed me.
Once we were in Holland he seemed to relax, and the gig the next day was a great success. But during the rest of the tour he continued to have these times of speaking with the same humourless intensity. Some of this also led him to see peculiar significance in things like certain numbers. I privately expressed my concern to some of the guys, and seemed to get the message that that was how he was on tour. I suppose like them, at the time, I rationalised his behaviour as just an expression of the pressure he felt as the figurehead of the band, and certainly his wholehearted performances must have been draining for him in every respect. The pressure must have been much more than in the Outsiders days by then: not only were the Sound playing abroad quite a lot, they also had a record deal and therefore there was the underlying pressure to sell records.
I recall an incident the next year, by which time I was working in a university library. Adrian turned up quite unexpectedly, but I was pleased to see him and we went out during my lunch break. He again had that preoccupied air, and this time was talking about messages that he was sure New Order were trying to convey to him in their songs. I tried to reassure him that this couldnt be the case, but I suppose that was naive. If Id known more then Id have seen that this was a kind of classic paranoid symptom.
Things reached something of a climax during the sessions for their last album, Thunder Up. A kindness Adrian often showed was to invite friends along to the studio when the band was recording. I went along one night, where again he was in his brooding mood. We went to a nearby pub for awhile, but this didnt really relax him and I couldnt seem to lighten his mood. Again, at the time I think I rationalised his behaviour as the result of pressure and exhaustion, but I remember I was disturbed enough by the experience to ring his home a day or two later to check that he was okay. It was a terrible shock to speak to his dad and learn that hed tried to commit suicide, and was at that moment in a mental hospital for the first time.
PB: Bob Lawrence left to go to university in 1978 and even before 'Close Up' was released. The final line-up consisted of yourself, Adrian, Graham Bailey on bass and eventually Bi Marshall on clarinet and keyboards. There were sadly no releases in that line-up of the group. Bi Marshall describes the Outsiders during that final line-up in an interview on the Renascent label website www.renascent.co.uk as having a "unique wailing sound". How do you remember the Outsiders as sounding during that last year?
AJ: We were in a period of transition. We rehearsed a lot with Graham in the latter part of 1978 to integrate him into the band. I dont think the general sound changed much, rather we were getting better and sharper at delivering it. The difference was that Bi, who became a friend of ours during 1978 and who wed bonded with over some shared musical passions, turned out to play clarinet. In my time with the band this turned into her coming on towards the end of sets and lacing our rock sound with some hard blowing during a never-recorded song called Settled Dust and our cover of the MC5s Looking at You (If there were other songs I dont remember them.).
She wasnt playing keyboards then, but her inclusion at this stage shows that we werent at all averse to experimenting and developing our sound. Of course her greater involvement after I left helped to re-shape the sound of the Outsiders as it became the Sound. Actually in a sense there is a recording of the Outsiders at that time. In December 1978 the four us, plus Lord Sulaco (of Adrians later side project, the Honolulu Mountain Daffodils) went in a studio to record some songs that Adrian and Sulaco had written.
It was just for a laugh really - the band was called the Crazies, after a George Romero film they both loved. As I recall it was semi-improvised - wed do one run-through of a song, then record it, then move straight on to the next. Bi is quite prominent on this recording, and Id certainly say that the Crazies had a unique wailing sound. Its pretty wild stuff, but there was never any suggestion of it being released. The other reason for telling this story is that the recording was made at Elephant Studio in London. Nick and Graham, the two guys there, were great and in tune with what we wanted, and Im sure that laid the basis for the Sounds Jeopardy and Second Layers World of Rubber subsequently being recorded there.
PB: You left the band in 1979 to go to university. Did you ever think about music as a long term career or was it always for you a sort of extended hobby?
AJ: Once wed left school I certainly hoped to make it in music. When I was sign-ing on it was as an aspiring musician - unfortunately the dole office werent a lot of help in getting gigs or securing a record deal! At the same time, at 18, 19, I dont think I was thinking long term - I just hoped that somehow things would work out and we would get recognised. As we didnt seem to be making much progress, towards the end of 1978 I started enquiring about the possibility of going to university. My primary interest had always been writing and I figured that properly studying English Literature would give me a good grounding.
PB: You contributed lyrics to 'Words Fail Me' and 'Night Versus Day', two of the songs on 'Jeopardy'.You also wrote lyrics for two Second Layer songs, 'Germany' and 'State of Emergency'. Both the 'Jeopardy' songs you and Adrian began work on in the last year of the Outsiders. What about the Second Layer songs? How much contact did you have otherwise with Adrian and the other members of the Outsiders latterly after the group ended?
AJ: After I left the band, my hope was that Id still be able to contribute as a lyricist. To some extent that hope was fulfilled, as I usually had a lyric on a Sound album (apart from Shock of Daylight and Thunder Up), as well as odd songs on singles, like Hot House. As for the Second Layer songs, I think these were just things I wrote which Adrian decided fitted better with the Second Layer style, which was a marriage of rock and electronic music.
I was lucky enough to be on the guest-list for many Sound gigs as well as making occasional studio visits when they were recording. Over the years the contact diminished, not least because of the amount of foreign touring they did, but it was the kind of friendship where you can just pick up where you left off when you meet up again. In the 90s, once the Sound were over, I still saw Graham and Adrian from time to time. Mike Dudley, their drummer, and Max Mavers, their keyboardist, I didnt see any more as it was only around activities of the band rather than socially that wed ever spent time together, so we simply drifted apart.
Graham emigrated to America in the early 90s and Adrian became much more of a European musician. I believe he spent quite long periods of the decade in Holland and Germany, where he was working with musicians from those countries and also had thought of moving. To some extent that what was what hed effectively done, although he was back in England for the last part of his life.
PB: What do you do now as a career? Are you still based in Wimbledon? Do you have much involvement in music these days?
AJ: Ive been involved in library and information work for many years. My only involvement in music now is as a fan (currently very big on the Black Keys). It literally never occurred to me to seek out another band after the Outsiders. I think this is because we started as friends whose initial passion for music then turned into wanting to make it ourselves. We remained friends after splitting as a band - maybe if wed come together in the first place as career musicians there wouldnt have been the same bond that could survive the split.
PB: Thank you.
John Clarkson - Pennyblackmusic.co.uk