Interview: Pop Will Eat Itself's Graham Crabb talks ahead of home gigs
They're coming back to where it all began.
Pop Will Eat Itself led a Black Country-ish charge towards the top of the charts in the late 80s and early 90s when Graham Crabb, Clint Mansell, Adam Mole and Richard March stormed the barricades in a blur of drunken rock. And on Sunday they'll be back to where it all began – at least, some of them will – when they headline Bilston's Robin 2 for their only Midlands date of 2016.
The PWEI of 2016 is a very different beast to the band of 1986, which enjoyed an NME Single of the Week with Poppies Say Grr!
Former singer Mansell is now making film scores for Oscar-winning movies while drummer Fuzz Townshend is presenting car programmes on National Geographic. Funny the way things turn out. Fuzz, along with fellow original member Graham, will be back for the Bilston gig.
Though band members inevitably went their separate ways following the band's dissolution in 1996, they remain mates.
Graham says: "The end was similar to what happens with a lot of other bands. Things start happening in your life and it's time to move on. In my case, my mom had died and I had a son I wanted to spend time with.
"I offered to just write for the band and not tour but they felt that wasn't what they wanted. We threw a few ideas around and nobody could agree so it came to an end.
"When you're in a band, you live in each others' pockets so you're bound to fall out from time to time. But we've all stayed good friends and people have had their various successes.
"I've been thrilled for Clint. He's a talented guy and he's remarked how different it is doing soundtracks to writing your own stuff because you are at the mercy of the director. But he always comes up with the goods. It's great to see him stick to his guns and he doesn't bow to pressure, which is commendable."
Back in the day, the Poppies were the acme of boys-on-tour.
"I have to be honest, I haven't got too many memories of what we got up to because of the amount we drank. It was like a stag party that lasted 10 years.
"We started as a kind of do-it-yourself punk rock outfit, playing short punky pop songs. We'd never really discovered technology. But as soon as we did we were off. That set us off on a different kind of path. Lots of things were going on. Hip hop was breaking big, sampling was breaking through and acid house was there too. It was an inventive time in music. We were lucky to be around at that time and getting attention.
"We're looking forward to playing the Robin. We'll be doing quite a few of the old hits from the Def Con One era: Can You Dig It, Wise Up Sucker…. right up through to the present day.
"We were a good bunch of mates who socialised when the band wasn't doing anything. We were constantly together. When the band took off, it became a celebration of our friendship. We carried on in that vein. We were drinking in The Mitre. Stourbridge was my second home at the time. I lived in Smethwick but I was always over in Stourbridge."
The Poppies were very much a DIY success. Their first single was pressed in a run of 500 copies then distributed in a brown paper bag. It caught the imagination of the music press and soon PWEI were on Radio 1. They signed to Craig Jennings' record label and the rest, as they say, is history.
"Craig was great. He was doing Balaam and the Angel at the time, who were based in Staffordshire. He's become very successful with his Raw Power management company and he works with bands like Bullet For My Valentine. He was great for us."
Drink was the constant during PWEI's earliest years. Graham laughs: "I remember a lot more than I let on, really, but it was just a great time. We just wanted to make sure every night was the best night. A lot of people understood and liked that. On the flipside, people might say we didn't take ourselves seriously – and they'd probably be right. We were just serious when we created the music. When we performed we wanted a great time."
He's proud that along with The Wonder Stuff and Ned's Atomic Dustbin, PWEI helped put the Stourbridge Scene on the map.
"Yeah, that was all weird. You wouldn't think it from such a small place. There was a Manchester thing going on and Stourbridge was like a mini version of that. The bands all got on. We'd all get together and have a drink whether we were playing or not playing. Various members shared flats and stuff at the time. It was fun."
If their debut album, the brilliant Box Frenzy, caused ripples in the indie chart; their second album caused a tidal wave. This Is The Day…This Is The Hous…This Is This! spent six weeks on the UK album chart as well as entering the Billboard chart in the USA.
"We were kind of surprised that places were interested when This Is The Day came out. But America and Australia wanted us over there. It was happy days. We were just travelling around. I suppose at first we'd go anywhere that people would have us. But the gigs were always good. We'd have lots of ex-pats as well as the natives.
"I think I always preferred the albums to the singles. There was always the pressure on the singles. We had to think whether radio was going to play us or whether we'd have a hit that would propel us forward. Doing the albums was great. We'd lock ourselves in the studio for six weeks and be creative. We didn't have to worry about what the record company was looking for. The albums were very eclectic."
The band reformed in 2005 but Clint and Richard soon had to exit due to other work commitments. It soon ran out of steam. But in 2011, Graham reformed the band with fellow vocalist Mary Byker, guitarist Tim Muddiman, drummer Jason Bowld and bassist Davey Bennett.
"We just fancied coming back. For a while we'd talked about a reformation and that went on until everyone wanted to do it. We were going to do a record and we started it but Clint was too busy with his soundtracks so had to pull out."
Sunday's Robin gig will be a proper Black Country night out. "Fuzz is back and we've got a guy from Stourbridge who used to work with us to play guitar. It's going to be a right good laugh."
It was ever thus.
By Andy Richardson