Find out more about guitarist and producer Kevin Armstrong here: http://www.kevin-armstrong.com/
The Rebel: How happy were you with the Dancing In The Street single and video? Out of Bowie and Jagger who had the best moves?
Kevin Armstrong: “I thought the Dancing In The Street single was a bit cheesy but it was made so quickly as a tagged on bit of time after a session for the Absolute Beginners soundtrack that I suppose it was never going to be that great. It was, let’s remember, a charity record and in that regard it may have been a very worthwhile thing. I think Mick Jagger took it to New York sometime afterwards and added some more players to it for a later version. The band didn’t even know it was going to happen until minutes before we did it. I’d had a swift rehearsal with DB and MJ at a meeting the night before but was asked to spring it on the band at the last minute for some reason. We all got invited to the video shoot in Docklands straight after and watched David and Mick camping it up together all night for the cameras. I hesitate to say who had the best moves because that’s the kind of guy I am!”
Bowie said recently that he wrote the lyrics to Absolute Beginners when he was “trying to convince himself he was in love with somebody”. Do you see yourself as an absolute beginner?
“For years I’ve considered myself an absolute beginner. There may have been a moment when I thought I knew a thing or two but experience paradoxically has taught me to be wary of that and always keep an eye on what can be learned from whomsoever I happen to work with. There is always something new to be gleaned from even the most surprising of sources. The minute I close my mind to that I might as well just stop making music. Of course there is stuff that long practice teaches you but bad habits can form if you forget how to sometimes rip it up and start over with an open head.”
Absolute Beginners features a sax solo by Don Weller and a keyboard solo by Steve Nieve. Don and Steve are both very respected in their field – were they nice chaps?
“Don Weller I don’t remember I may or may not have met him but Steve of course I knew well. He is a very gifted musician and a good laugh too. We laughed a lot on the Last Resort season we did and a lot of good natured piss taking went on.”
What did you learn from working with producer Clive Langer?
“Clive’s approach was very calm and persuasive in the studio I think he is a very intuitive producer with a way of going with what feels good to him in the moment. I don’t think he spent a lot of time racking his brain about stuff. He was just a very gentlemanly presence and very good company which is so important when wanting to get good performance from musicians. That said I think it may have been possible to underestimate him as he can appear to be a slightly shy person. I think he has very strong opinions about music and realizes them by stealth. The relationship between him and Alan Winstanley was a great balance. Alan the cool technician very quietly organizing the nuts and bolts and Clive the dreamer and critic able to steer the creative process in the right direction without having to worry precisely how it could be done.”
Steve Nieve and The Playboys were an excellent house band. Did you hang out with each other outside the TV show and did you ever do any live shows together?
“We never gigged together outside the show but we definitely hung out and played some music too in each others recording sessions and stuff. Steve and Pete could be quite wild guys and a lot of naughty fun was had. I saw a fair bit of Steve Lawrence too as he had a little studio in town where we use to hang. Once we were rehearsing for the show at Nomis and Robert Plant popped in and sang with us for an hour. That was good!”
Tin Machine got some good reviews and some very, very bad reviews. Melody Maker journalist Jon Wilde ended his review with a message to David Bowie – “Stand down man, you’re a f***ing disgrace.” Do you think this behavior from journalists is unacceptable or quite funny and which comments from journalists about your work has stayed in your head?
“I don’t have a lot of time for the opinions of music journalists really. They are completely entitled to sat whatever they like of course and I can understand how one could get upset but for most people it’s water off a duck’s back. So many records (or films or books) have transcended the initial reactions of critics be they positive or negative that one has to get it in perspective. There was a review of Propaganda live once that said something about me “axe grinding beyond the call of duty” which slightly upset me when I read it but it was probably true so what the fuck!”
Who was the best one in Eternal?
“I’m sorry I couldn’t name even one of them. Though I played on several of their tunes I think I only met them once and they probably thought I was the tea boy or something. I remember they were all nice looking girls!”
Tell me about the Friends of Ireland project? Do you have Irish roots?
“My family roots are Scottish on my dad’s side. My involvement with the Irish music is all as a consequence of my friendship and working relationship with John Reynolds. I have done work recently with Sinead O’Connor, Andrea Corr, Shane MacGowan, Maire Brennan, Damien Dempsey and Paul Brady all produced by John.”
As a teenager I loved watching you on The Last Resort and saw you jam with various legends. Was there anyone you met on that show that you were in awe of?
“Well Roy Orbison really.. I mean how legendary can you get? Unfortunately we were all wearing stupid silver wigs and spandex catsuits as that weeks’ show had a Star Trek theme so we look like a right bunch of tossers and I won’t be showing that one to my grand kids!”
Morrissey's album Bona Drag has just been re-released with six extra tracks. The music for several tracks on this compilation were composed by Kevin including a rare track called Oh Phoney. There's almost too much info about the records Morrissey was releasing at this point on this site here: http://motorcycleaupairboy.com/
Kevin says: "I like the song He Knows I'd Love To See Him (although as a player I could have done it more justice a few years later). I'm proud that what you hear in that song is exactly what I wrote and nothing got changed. morrissey just wrote the song on top of my completed guitar instrumental which is exactly how I imagined the process happening with him and Johnny in The Smiths."