No punk pressure - Gordon Scott on the return of The Valves
Punk’s not dead’ goes the old cliche, and The Valves are the latest act to be resurrected.
However, as Gordon Scott points out, the Edinburgh quartet weren’t really part of that snotty, safety-pinned movement from the late 1970s.
“We played kind of fast R&B, which is where a lot of punk rock came from," the bassist recalls, “but we were never hard core punks.”
Indeed, the album’s cover pictures four young men on Portobello beach, devoid of the spiky hair or ripped T-shirts that seemed mandatory back in the day.
“We never got into the fashion,” Scott – aka ‘Pada’ – admits. “It was more an ethos, about not taking four years to make a record, like Pink Floyd.
“The Skids were starting, Johnny and the Self Abusers (who would become Simple Minds)... the sheer fun of playing music without going to music school or spending on studio recordings. It was the DIY that made the music work.”
However, attitude aside, one thing bands of that era shared was a youthful exuberance.
“We were sifting through stuff to put on the album and we found a few live tapes and the speed was quite terrifying,” Scott recalls. “We couldn’t do it like that now!
“And that was without any kind of illegal ‘stuff’ – just sugar, adrenaline and alcohol, I guess.
“The Ramones cut through everything those days… their three-minute songs and three chords was wonderful, but we got bored with less good bands just thrashing their way through – we always tried to put some more songwriting into it and I think that comes through in the album.”
However, after two years chasing the rock’n’roll dream, the band petered out.
“We just realised we weren’t going to get anywhere – you could see the likes of Bob Geldof were just career-focused, and was going to succeed whatever.”
There was one last chance of success, albeit from an unexpected source.
“EMI (the label which famously sacked the Sex Pistols) chased us up to do a version of Manfred Mann’s ‘5-4-3-2-1’ – I don’t know what would have happened if we’d gone down that route, but we thought ‘we’re better than that’ – maybe naively!”
Instead, their entire recorded output – including the seminal ‘Robot Love’ and ‘Ain’t No Surf in Portobello’, both for Bruce Findlay’s Zoom label – ran to just three short, sharp, singles.
Until now, that is. An album, ‘Better Late…’ has finally seen the light of day, following a painstaking project largely driven by drummer Gordon Dair, who was also the force behind the band reforming six years ago, bringing back original guitarist Ronnie Mackinnon as well as Antwerp-based vocalist Dave Robertson for a real-one off show – “just to remind folk really”.
But the reunited foursome found that their music had lasted pretty well – and transcended the generation gap.
“There were sons and daughters there as well,” Scott recalls, “it wasn’t all just wrinklies!
"I don’t think we attracted a hugely punky crowd even in the day,” he points out, “and it was the same at the gig, with the staunch leather jacket rock fans that liked us then.”
Conveniently, some of the tracks from that show appear on the new record.
“We were never that happy with the singles, they weren’t that well recorded,” he says, the band enlisting one-time BBC sound engineer Douglas Ring to work his magic on the collection of ancient cassettes.
“The other reason (for the album) is before our demographic dies off!” he jokes. “No, it’s partly to give some people a kind of keepsake, it’s nice for the people who turned up for the reunion gig.”
So what next for the revitalised Valves? The two Gordons have been given a new lease of life, playing shows with a contemporary, Joe Donkin from The Cheetahs, filling in for their exiled vocalist.
“I had to buy a guitar!” Scott exclaims. “But straight away I realised how much I’d missed it.”
However, while the reborn bassist knows it’s a bit late to be chasing the dream, the band are still doing it for themselves – just like back in the day.
Scott laughs. “Yup – no money, but plenty of integrity!”
‘Better Late…’ is available now. More at www.thevalves.co.uk.