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Saturday, 15 May 2021

Mick Dillingham Interviews : Derrero.

I will freely admit that for much of the nineties, besides the obvious greats of XTC, Robyn Hitchcock and Captain Sensible, the fast majority of bands and artists I was well into were American. It seemed to these ears that there was an unending flow of quality, interesting melodic guitar music from over the pond that easily trumped the fashion conscious Brit Pop The latter seemed like an Anthematic rip off of my older siblings record collection 

Its an interesting phenomena in music that even though bands often create music totally independent of other contemporary music, there can be something in the water of the time that means there are other bands also creating music of a similar ilk. From the outside it can seem like a movement, though when delved into more closely it turns out to be a coincidence. As the decade approached its end one such movement sprang into life in Britain. 

Melodic gravitas progressive popsike of stunning beauty and grace made by bands like Super Furry Animals, Orange, Orgone Box, Octopus, Supernaturals, Silverheel, Lilac Time and The Chrysanthemums was all a joy to behold. The two I loved the most had to be Straw and the fabulous Derrero. Championed by both John Peel and Mark and Lard, it seemed for a while, especially around the time of their radio hit Radar Intruder, that Ash Cooke, Andy Fung, Dave Hirst and Mary Wycherley who made up the mighty Derrero came so damn close to breaking on through to a more widespread popularity. 

Over three albums and three EPs, Derrero grew to be glorious with their gorgeous melodies, wonderful production and seductive harmonies, culminating in the superb swansong Comb The Breaks, before drifting apart and moving onto new musical projects. They always remained friends, even did the occasional ad hoc live show down the years.  But now they have returned with a brilliant, fill your heart with joy, new album Time Lapse on Recordiau Cae Gwynn Records which is everything you would want from them and more. Time to sit down with Ash and Andy and talk about it all.  

Ash: “Neither of my parents make music or play instruments, but there was always interesting music in the house. I remember being drawn to records that they had by Buddy Holly, The Beatles, Geno Washington & Peddlers and the harmonies of songwriters like The Everly Brothers & John Denver.

They also had comedy records by Peter Sellers and those weird covers albums with some bloke playing the Hammond Organ to demonstrate stereo. I was drawn to odd bits of music like that. I loved record sleeves as a kid (still do) and liked looking at the pictures on gatefold albums. Boney M’s "Oceans Of Fantasy" was my favourite. It opens out twice so there are four sides to the picture. Classic times!

My Dad bought a little tape player for loading games on to a home computer that we had, but I was more fascinated by the idea of recording myself and my guitar. It was really weird to hear my own voice for the first time. Eventually I learnt to use a second tape machine as a way of multi tracking recordings. The final step in my conversion to a lifetime love of home recording came when I acquired my first 4 track. It changed my world forever.

I was taught to play the guitar in Primary school by a local musician. It got me out of Maths for one hour a week, but I just loved it and played all the time. I wrote bags of songs that were all crap, but I cherished them and pretended to release my own albums and play gigs in the house. I played my first gig at Primary school and got paid a Mars bar! 

Later on I used to do proper gigs in Secondary school. I remember that we put a scratch band together to support Dr Phibes & The House Of Wax Equations in our sixth form. We were rubbish but I got my first taste of what a band can sound like through a full PA. I didn't really have a regular band before going off to Art College in Falmouth. As well as playing in school though, friends used to come over on the weekend and we would record hour after hour of Brian May inspired rock Jams. Those were the days! I remember building drums from ice cream tubs. Still have those tapes – very weird.”

Andy: “I grew up in Trinidad and my earliest musical memories are driving to the beach listening to my parent's tapes in the car, from Reggae to James Last to The Beatles. Later after moving to England in the mid 80s, I formed my first band at the church that my dad was the Pastor of. As well as playing drums. I started writing songs on guitar, my chord knowledge was basic, but enough to write and actually my song writing is still quite simple chord wise. I then went on to join a band called Jive Ass Blast and started getting into Psychedelics like weed, mushrooms and LSD. That was the beginning of a lifelong love of Psychedelics which influenced my music and visual art. 

I was also drummer in a Christian Funk band called City Gate and played guitar and sung in a band with friends called Shanti. This was the beginning of me melding drumming with singing which went on to be a key part of Derrero. I was playing in a band in Falmouth called Big Chief which was completely folky and doing trad folk covers. When the fiddle player and her boyfriend left, we were in need of new musicians and a new direction. I knew Ash and Dave played guitar and bass so asked them. 

Our leader Rob was a funny, cool and eccentric guy and he had really good contacts with lots of pub landlords throughout Cornwall. We rehearsed up a set of covers from the snooker theme to the Grateful Dead and played all over Cornwall and occasionally Devon. It was really good gigging experience and developed us as musicians. It was also a great source of extra income. 

After college we relocated to Brighton and started Derrero with a different bass player Stacey. We played as much as we could and saw lots of cool experimental bands in Brighton along with Gorkys. We chatted to them after, little knowing that we would go on to support them and become friends in years to come.   

My girlfriend at the time, Mary Wycherley, got a place studying film at Caerleon near Newport, so we relocated to Newport and Dave joined us. Brighton and Newport were important places for us getting experience in playing live and honing our sound, which at first was very high energy and punky three piece sound with melodic two part harmonies.”

Ash: “Dave, Andy, Mary and I met in Falmouth, but we didn't form Derrero until after we graduated and left. This is the part of the band history that is most misinterpreted. Andy was in a band called Big Chief that had just lost their guitarist and bassist. I remember that Dave was driving me along Wood Lane in this great gold Capri that he owned. Andy stopped us and mentioned about the band situation. Dave and I jumped at the chance to join. There was another member of the band called Rob who was a lot older than us and was kind of the band leader. 

We spent two years travelling all over Cornwall in a knackered camper van playing in pubs and clubs. Textbook apprenticeship, I guess. Mary was Andy's girlfriend at the time and she sometimes sang in other Falmouth bands. After we graduated from Falmouth Andy, Mary and I moved to Brighton for a year and started Derrero.  The first week there, we sat in the front room of our flat and put our tunes on the table. The plan was to start getting gigs like crazy and get signed - like you do. 

The first ever Derrero gig was at the Free Butt pub in 1995. Dave had gone back to Kent to work for his parents and another college friend of ours, Stacey Harvey, played Bass. Brighton was interesting at the time, because it was full of ex Falmouth artists like Pete Fowler and Rob Ramsden. Jo Nery the actress was there. She has since gone on to be in Ideal with Johnny Vegas. The Brighton year was a lot of fun and we worked hard to get gigs. 

We played loads of shitty London pubs with noise limiters that cut the power off when ever you struck a snare drum. One gig was in this pub in Basingstoke. The Landlord was ex military and a bit if an odd ball. We had only played about three songs when he told us to pack up and go home because we didn't sound like our demo tape 'where is the girl singer' he complained. We were pissed off because we had hired a van and travelled a long way. So we asked the audience if they wanted us to continue and they were with us so we carried on. At the end of the night the landlord gave us the money and wondered if we wanted to book another gig!!! 

When Mary got a place on a Film & Animation degree course in Newport Gwent Andy wanted to go with her and I didn't want to break the band, so I went along too. Stacey opted to stay in Brighton and our old pal Dave decided to rejoin our merry gang and that was how we ended up in Wales. After a disastrous Christmas playing some money making gigs in Cornwall, we headed back to our new home in Newport. Our van died on the way and it took us eleven hours to make the four hour journey. 

To begin with the plan was to be playing regular gigs in South Wales within six months and be part of the scene which we did. We ran Derrero as a business for a while to get funding to buy another van. Building on the funding idea, we also bagged another £200 from The Princes Trust and recorded a demo at Cardiff's Big Noise studio in early 1996.   Later in the year, Big Noise owner Greg Haver was at one of our Newport gigs to see Flyscreen who he was producing at the time. He was interested in starting a label and agreed to record more Derrero tunes. 

We were so well rehearsed in those days that we laid down the backings for seventeen songs in one day. It was rough and ready, but that was the way we sounded at the time – all gung ho energy. We had never really recorded with this band either, so it was all new territory. The vocals were put down after Xmas in early 1997 and all of a sudden we had an album.”

Andy: “One thing that defined us is our enthusiasm and commitment to rehearsing and vocals. We were all signing on and could commit to the band full time. Ash and I were constantly writing too. We both had a wealth of songs to choose from with our two styles complimenting each other, but also quite different. This was definitely a strength of the band. Once with Big Noise and the first album was out, which was recorded and released quickly, we were free to work on the new songs coming through. 

Greg Haver produced us and he was developing as well, so we were experimenting and learning on the job. Our approach to recording was very free and we weren't afraid to try anything out. Fuelled by coffee and weed, the sessions often sounded pretty layered and psychedelic. Bands that we were into were varied and many. but certainly Ween, Grandaddy, Super Furry Animals, Gorkys, Sparklehorse, Teenage Fanclub and further back The Beach Boys and Neil Young. 

Harmonies were definitely the staple on which everything was built from there launching off into any direction. Radar Intruder was key for us as John peel picked up on it and it led to our first session. John championing the band was a real boost as he was so revered in the world of alternative music and so important for the exposure of new acts trying to do something different.

 I would say that our Art background was very important in informing us as a band. It was one of the things that set us apart. We were of course lumped in with the Welsh movement. Like, Super Furry Animals, we prided ourselves on a very creative approach to production and song writing. There was a feeling of kinship with some American bands that we'd arrived at through shared influences, but at times randomly.”

Ash: “It must be noted for the record too that Le Pub owner Kieran put out the Dipstick/Tiny Shoes single for us at the same time. We used the Big Noise versions of these songs, although producer Rich Jackson was supposed to do the session but was unavailable. Le Pub was our main haunt and was the last place that I played with the group in 2002. 

A lot of the songs on the first album dated back to the Brighton days and were quite old, this is the case with many bands first albums I guess. Dipstick was originally written in a country style version at half the speed! We played it as a 'Breeders version' in rehearsal one day for a laugh and Greg came bursting in wondering what the tune was!!

We had a lot of fun with the vocals on that album. Riddle & Bend had stuff sung down traffic cones and there was a lot of screaming. The album seemed to do quite well. I don't really recall much, but our gigs certainly picked up once it came out. Greg’s business partner, Ceri worked for the Super Furry’s stage crew and his girlfriend worked for Ankst who managed them and Gorkys Zygotic Mynci etc. So we were able to get support slots with them all. 

We Played in Coppers Field Cardiff with The Fall and a million dates in London. A stand out moment I guess had to be getting the first Peel session. Small Pocket was recorded quickly after the first album came out and was fresh with new songs. We took more time to record each song and produce things a bit more. It is still my favourite set of tunes. 

Super Furry Animals stored their gear at the studio and we were able to borrow bits and bobs for our sessions. I think that we were all taken a back by how much the band had grown musically in a year. It gained us a new level of respect too. With this in mind we cracked on and began recording the second album. 

Radar Intruder was one of those songs that didn't feel like it would be much good until it was recorded and then we all knew it was good. We were moving forward doing what we dreamed off. Doing more Peel stuff on the back of that record was amazing. People started to respect what we were doing more.

Recording at Maida Vale was funny too as the Beeb was still quite old fashioned then. We got there early expecting to do a full days recording, but once the tape op had loaded the machine at about 10 am, we saw no one until the engineer arrived after lunch. With a fag in mouth, he recorded us till about 5 then announced it was time for the pub before mixing. The whole thing wrapped up at about midnight. 

In 1998 we did our longest string of gigs supporting Catatonia. The shows were all sold out. In fact 1998 & 1999 were busy years. We toured with Granddaddy, Sebadoh and Gorkys again. I also did a string of teaching workshops with valleys poet Patrick Jones. 

We had all moved over to Cardiff as well by this time, so we spent a good of time in the studio practising and playing at being a ‘proper band’! There can be a general sound that surrounds bands that live and work in the same city or area. I think that because a lot of the bands rehearsed in the same place in Cardiff, then ideas possibly got passed through the walls.

Granddaddy's first album opened up the door for raw room sounding drums on records, but we were into Teenage Fanclub, Beck, Ween, Bonzo's, Big Star, Elliot Smith. Good harmonies and interesting production. Our Welsh contemporaries were also a strong influence on how to operate as a band. You learn a lot by working with bands that are more successful that you!

Andy and I wrote songs separately and then brought them to the band. Occasionally either one of us might suggest a tweak here and there, but we respected what the other person brought in and kept them mostly intact. Harmony was important because we loved The Beach Boys and because we both wanted to be singing. It happened naturally but it was a bit of a trademark too. 

When it came to recording however everyone had an input into sounds and overdubs. Many a time Dave would shout his approval of a particular part from the sofa where he was on the Playstation.  The second album, Fixation With Long Journeys, was quite frustrating for us because it took a long time for it to be released. 

The Big Noise studio building had been compulsory purchased and demolished by the WDA as part of Cardiff City centre's development programme and until they coughed up the compensation, there was no budget to release the album. A lot of the songs on the album had been written around the time of Small Pocket Machine, but were recorded at different times in different locations. So I can appreciate where folk’s reading of the disjointed feel to the album comes from. 

By the time it did come out we already had another albums worth of new material ready that we were more interested in playing. Those tunes were only ever recorded on my 4 track and I have since lost the tapes! There were some great songs there. 

I like to think that that material could have made an amazing third Big Noise album, that had the label survived, would have built on the achievements of Fixation and pushed the band into new territory, but it was never meant to be. As fate would have it the whole WDA thing effectively killed off Big Noise and regrettably for everyone we parted company with Greg & Ceri.”

Andy: “Due to the various problems with the development of the city centre and delays in the release of Fixation, it was an album that encompassed songs from a wide period. The Radar Intruder and Unstraightforwardtune EPs were released to keep stuff coming out. But looking back we had so much great material recorded then that ideally we should have released two full albums from the material recorded over this period. That's why there is a disjointedness with Fixation. 

We were developing so fast as songwriters and players that we had a wealth of material written and recorded. Had the label not had these financial restrictions we could have released two great albums using the material. We were forced to condense it and it perhaps suffers a bit as a result. A more perfect album could have been made with the extra ep tracks and some of what was on Fixation, but we actually had a load of great tracks that fitted in sonically with a lot of the tracks on the album that didn't make it on that would have been great spread out over two albums.”

Ash: “After the end of Big Noise, we wondered how we could get another album out with all the new material that we had been stockpiling. We had just recorded our third Peel session and felt excited about what we could do next on record, but at the same time we also felt a little washed up. I guess we had realised that no one was gonna hand us success on a plate. We found ourselves in Maida Vale doing Peel again, but yet we were unsigned!

It was suggested that we approach the band Melys to help us make an album. Melys had their own label and studio in North Wales. They were keen on the project and gave us twelve days to record it in. The experience was brilliant. We had this big master schedule of how to record the songs that would allow us to do a song a day. It was like a military exercise. Nothing was gonna get missed out. 

Gez Jones engineered it and provided production where it was needed. He was a massive support to us and helped to bring out the best in the music. Comb The Breaks is the truest representation of how we wanted to sound on record. We were also exploring new ideas with rhythm loops and keyboard sounds. We returned to studio Sylem one more time to add Brass to the final track and remix a few things.”

Andy:  “I started playing around with some music software like fruity loops before the recording of Comb The Breaks and built up these programmed drum tracks that formed the basis of some of the songs I was writing. This led to a more metronomic, slightly electronic, feel on some of the tracks on Comb The Breaks. 

As Ash says Big Noise had folded and Melys helped us out. It was fun recording it in a focused way in North Wales. One of the reasons it sounds more complete and cohesive is that it was all done in one week with us, well rehearsed as always and the sound of one studio. Gez, Melys' engineer, who recorded it had one really good valve mic and we put everything we could through that which is a big part of why that album sounds so warm and lush.

Another different aspect was it was the first time we had produced an album entirely ourselves with a bit of help from Gez. We had done everything else with Greg Haver, which was a long, happy and fruitful relationship over the years, but it was fun and rewarding producing ourselves and showed how much we'd learnt and how capable we'd become at it.”

Ash:  “Comb The Breaks was recorded in the summer of 2001, but before it was released the following year my son was born and I wasn’t able to commit my time to the band in the way that I wanted to. Sion, my brother in law played a few dates with the band, but I effectively put the brakes on the group. I still feel really bad about that 'cause we should have been out promoting Comb instead of putting things on hold. 

I started to work on solo projects from then on and worked on music as and when I had time. Dave lived on in Cardiff for a few years working for Ankst Management, before returning to Kent where he now has a studio. Mary became a full time photographer and still lives in Cardiff.

When Derrero took a break, I carried on recording and releasing music under the name Pulco. I continued to compose music that centred around conventional arrangements, but also drew on the pallet of home-fi sounds that I had first developed in my teens. Using old 4-track recorders that returned to me and interested me the most. 

Cheap instruments found sound and noise mixed with ambient spill creating a sonic like autobiography.  I had a clear idea that I wanted to develop a new music for myself with a simple minimal approach and to look beyond the traditional use of the guitar for something new to say. To be able to develop this new musical language I had to deconstruct a lot of what I had learnt in my 20's in order to try and understand the guitar in a different way. 

The process involved pulling apart the conventional idea of a verse/chorus structure in song writing and finally abandoning general structure altogether. I began to favour using the recording process to collage sections of sound together, which then developed into the desire to freely improvise those sections, then finally into just pure improvisation. For a while I also worked under the name Chow Mwng but basically now I’m happy to work under my own name.”

Andy:  “Around this time I started doing some more lo-fi experimental instrumental stuff on a 4 track. Limiting myself to the 4 tracks I would put down say drums, bass, guitar and a keyboard or different combinations of these. Some of the parts were written beforehand, but a lot just made up responding to an initial beat. 

This project I called Cymbient and I recorded an album called "Waah Slop Clip". This actually became the basis for my first two Cymbient albums proper, when I added vocals and fleshed out the tracks and went on to form the five piece band after the hiatus of Derrero.

I was also doing my masters in Fine Art at Howard Gardens in Cardiff . I combined instrumental performances of Waah Slop Clip playing over a backing track with shows of my visual art around this time. It was actually a bit of a hyperactive time for me where I would paint for say eight hours then record and write for three hours most days. I continued to paint and went on to release five albums as Cymbient and that project continues to this day.

Over the years I've done various session drumming projects with Richard James (Gorkys), Cate Lebon, Martin Carr and others. My painting is psychedelic in nature and has been and still is a constant and I've shown all over Britain and a bit internationally. Alongside Cymbient I've made seven albums with Paul Battenbough in a collaborative project called No Thee No Ess.

I also have a little label called Surk and more recently as well as new No Thee No Ess and Cymbient, I have put out a collaborative hip hop/spoken word project with my little brother called Botch Sconnet. There will be more odd things coming out on the label too, like a double concept album about bedding and sleep called 'Quilty Pleasures', basically as long as its good anything goes. An eclecticism partly inherited from one of my favourite bands, Ween.”

Ash:  “I wrote a song called ‘Feed the Flashback’ which I felt sounded like something Derrero would play. I’d not written like that for ages, so it seemed appropriate to pass it on to Dave and Andy. I think Andy got inspired as he started writing new songs himself and pretty soon Dave had persuaded us to come down to his studio in Kent to record the songs. 

We met up in May 2019 and put the whole album together in three days (some overdubs were done remotely later on though). Once we started it felt like we had never stopped making music together and  the whole project quickly gathered momentum. It’s such a shame that the Covid pandemic forced us to postpone the album tour that would have happened in April 2020. But we are currently working on new material and as soon as we can the Time Lapse tour will be re planned. It will happen!”

Andy:  “After years of doing our own stuff, Ash got in touch saying he'd written a song that could be good for new Derrero material. For some reason I didn't do anything towards it for a while, not sure why. But after some time passed, I had an urge to do some writing for Derrero and the new songs I wrote for the new album 'Time Lapse' came quickly and were a joy to write, I'd just record them quietly on my phone and send to Ash and Dave. 

Ash had a few others that he'd written as well as the initial song "Feed The Flashback" which is a great rally call to reforming.  These new songs alongside some ones that we'd demoed way back in 2001 formed the new album. We recorded it at Dave's studio in Kent and then finished at our various homes. Dave did a fantastic job engineering and mastering it.

 So here we are with a new release after twenty years and the music still sounds fresh and exciting and maybe most importantly, is fun to make.  I think we'll continue to release regular albums as Derrero from now on alongside our own various projects. We haven't yet been able to enjoy doing live shows again due to restrictions, but when it happens it'll be like we never left.”

You can listen to and buy the new album, Time Lapse, here. The download is only £3, the price of a Takeout Coffee. It is also available on CD and Vinyl. It was Number 2 in I Don't Hear A Single's Best 100 Albums of 2020.

Derrero back catalogue can be listened to and bought here. This Back Catalogue is all available as Name Your Price.

You can read the IDHAS Review of Time Lapse here.


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