At the end of January Edinburgh’s indie music stalwarts SL Records are releasing an album called ‘Releasing The Impossible’ – one of the most bizarre, twisted pieces of audio you’re ever likely to hear. Anyone who’s encountered either Dawn of the Replicants or his work with The Leg won’t be surprised to found out that Paul Vickers is one of the nutjobs involved and that it’s inspired by Ivor Cutler. In an effort to recycle content in a timely fashion, here’s an interview I did with him for one of the early issues of The Skinny Magazine.
As their dazzling new album ‘Fangs’ suggests, you’d be hard pressed to find a more entertaining interviewee than Dawn of the Replicant’s front man and lyricist Paul Vickers. The album, their fifth over a ten year career, is a voodoo New Orleans Jazz-rock-opera featuring a cast of boozed up lounge lizards, pterodactyl dinner guests, diminuitive brawlers, and surrealist Wild West imagery. Beautifully arranged and produced, musically it spans classic rock, Ennio Morricone, doo wop, BB King style blues, Sinatra style crooning and consistently melodic yet inventive songwriting.
The Replicants began when Vickers moved to the Scottish Borders town Galashiels to work on cult music magazine ‘Sun Zoom Spark’, having left a music course in Nottingham which geared its students towards “spending the rest of our lives doing background music for Czechoslovakian animation.” Disillusioned with their band Crunchy Joseph, Brothers Roger and Mike Simian had started Sun Zoom Spark and gained UK wide distribution. The first issue sold 15, 000 copies but sales began to drop off and when it folded prematurely, Roger and Paul’s new band The Dawn of the Replicants became their main concern. They used Roger’s student loan to press up a batch of their first single and the contacts they’d built up with the magazine to gain exposure. “We got over the fear of phoning people up and not knowing where to start as we’d been dealing with record companies for two years through the magazine”.
The single instantly gained airplay from John Peel and Mark and Lard’s evening show, as well as support from the NME and Melody Maker. Record companies were soon on the phone demanding to see the Replicants live, but with the band not as yet properly formed they were forced to play showcase gigs in their living room, along to “backing tapes powered by an Atari”. In the end they decided to go a major label. “East west had Mick Hucknall and Tori Amos so wasn’t that cool but it was the right A&R man so we thought let’s go for it.”
However after recording second album ‘Wrong Town, Wrong Planet, Three Hours Late’ the band were dropped, another casualty of a cruelly indifferent music industry. “What a lot of major record labels suffer from is no company loyalty. What happens is nobody’s safe in their jobs, and the turnover of jobs is so fast, that you have a lot of people who don’t really give a damn working for the company. I remember that they sacked the whole A&R department at East West, apart from the A&R man who signed us. Somehow he got away with it and is now working at EMI because he signed the Blazing Squad.”
Luckily, after a period of disbandment in which Vickers and Roger Simian went it alone as the electro duo Pluto Monkey (“It was a difficult time. We went for a sort of Soft Cell approach which didn’t really work”) they decided to reform the Replicants, albeit with a couple of new members, and have now hooked up with Edinburgh’s SL Records, home of Ballboy and Misty’s Big Adventure. Vickers is philosophical about the glitches in their career, regarding it with a characteristic sense of humour.
“You can’t be in Dawn of the Replicants without having an element of humour – we’re underdogs. People have preconceptions and write us off as being a weird band without actually listening to our records. I think the problem was that we weren’t cool enough when we came out. We just looked like a bunch of farmers and were even described by one journalist as ‘four farmers and a freak’”.
Vickers believes that humour is essential in music as long as it’s combined with real feeling. “I suppose it seems like a strange thing to get upset about but snobbishness about humour really pisses me off. You can say a lot more with humour than anything else, and when something’s genuinely funny you feel every emotion- everyone can recognise that a real truth is being spoken.”
John Peel was always a major supporter of the band, and one of their sessions for him was recently voted amongst the best of all time. Vickers regards the reaction to his death with bemusement. “It’s a weird thing because it went from nobody giving a shit to everyone really caring after he died. In a lot of ways Peel was just doing the right thing, he cared about music and he stuck by bands he really liked whether or not they were in fashion or not, as long as it was still good he’d still give Half Man Half Biscuit a session and it was the same with us.”
Of course the loss of the band’s major champion was always going to be difficult. “We went to the funeral and I cried my eyes out throughout the whole thing. Partly”, he jokes, “because I thought this is the end of my career! At the funeral there was Belle and Sebastian and the White Stripes in the row in front and behind us was Griff Rhys Jones of all people. There were really famous people there like Robert Plant and also a cement mixer from Hull, which you wouldn’t get in any other circumstances. We’ve lost one of the good guys.”