I'm Al Gregg (ex guitarist from the final line up of The Wall and author of the recently published Punk/Football novel 'The Wrong Outfit', which also focuses on the band - and answering questions on their behalf)
How did the band start?
The band started towards the end of 1978, when Ian Lowery (Vocals/guitar), Andy Griffiths (Bass), Joe Hammond (Guitar) and Bruce Archibald (Drums) met up in Sunderland and the surrounding area. Historically there has always been some confusion between original band members coming from either Newcastle or Sunderland, due to their close proximity, but while The Wall weren't a Newcastle band, they weren't all from Sunderland either.
How did you come up with the name?
The Wall was named loosely after Hadrian's Wall snaking across the Northumberland landscape to Wallsend and was also inspired by the Berlin Wall and the oppressive nature of other such walls. And also probably to the references about 'going over the wall' on the Pistols' single 'Holidays in the Sun'.
Who would you say are your influences?
The band were heavily influenced by many bands of the day but especially The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks, The Damned, The Adverts and ATV. Prior to punk, the band were heavily influenced by Bowie, Lou Reed, Slade, Free, The Stooges, The Who, Yardbirds, Small Faces, amongst many others.
What was the punk scene like in 1979, when the band formed?
On it's last legs in terms of the first wave. With bands like the Pistols imploding after Sid Vicious' death, the Clash selling out and hopping over to the USA, it was becoming a new arena for the up and coming second wave. These groups were unfairly classed as second division punk, but they in fact tended to be even more hardcore and determined in their approach. Also punk was fanning out to many other cities, towns and suburbs, rather than just focussing itself in the Ground Zero's of Camden or the King's Road.
How do you feel it has changed?
Punk has entered into the mainstream like a mass marketed product. It's everywhere and in a sense 'punk' has lost it's original power both to shock and outrage. It keeps a lot of 'sad old musos' busy though lol.
What was the song writing process back then?
Early on it was mainly through Ian Lowery as front man, who came up with the lyrics and music and both Andy and Joe would contribute greatly also to the riffs and musical compositions. The later addition of Nick Ward on guitar, and Rab Fae Beith (Drums) added some more really fine additional songwriting sensibilities into the mix: the songs 'Fight the Fright' and 'In Nature' being just two examples.
Has the song writing process changed?
As time went on with various line up changes, more of the songs became a team effort and band credit, but both Rab Fae Beith and Andy Griffiths shared writing credits on many of the songs, right up to the end, with them both able to swap lyrical and riff duties at will. For example, Andy started out as the band's bassist but ended up as the singer. Likewise Rab started out as the drummer, but then became both the band's manager and also the drummer/guitarist/bassist, with the latter studio recordings.
Tell us about your first EP, ‘New Way’…
'New Way' was self produced on Small Wonder Records in 1979. The powerful black and white sleeve artwork of a Nazi rally, but with The Wall's band logo on the flags instead of swastika's was all designed by the guitarist Joe Hammond. The B side had two really catchy songs 'Suckers' and 'Uniforms' aswell, both fesible A sides in their own right, which were compared favourably to both the Clash and the Buzzcocks in their catchiness. The A side 'New Way' had a mid paced, deceptive loping riff in the verse, almost reggae-light which was linked to a big, chant-like chorus. It proved a very powerful combination which won the band many plaudits and launched the bands career and eventual move down to London, partly as a result of John Peel's repeated playing of the EP on his legendary radio show.
You released a single that was produced by Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, how does that differ from the EP?
It was a very different harder sound, very Pistols like, certainly with the use of treble, distortion and feedback on the guitars, a definite quality Steve Jones brought to the desk. He also lent a certain anarchy to the proceedings, through the use of drop out, with guitar/bass/drums and of course a brilliant level of aggression in Lowery's vocals on the takes of both 'Exchange' and 'Kiss the Mirror' that certainly hasn't dimmed over the years. The guitar sonic that he helped shape, stayed with the band right up until the split in '83.
What was it like working with Steve Jones?
Both Steve Jones and Paul Cook had come along to see The Wall at the Marquee in London, and liked them and then approached Rab about producing their second single, at a time when Steve Jones was looking to produce various up and coming acts like Joan Jett etc, after the demise of the Pistols. For The Wall, to quote Rab, it was like 'a dream come true' and they felt really priviledged to be working with an already considerable punk legend and he single handedly rubber stamped their sound. In fact, as it turned out The Wall were credited as the first punk band to be produced by an ex-Pistol.
Tell us about your debut LP, ‘Personal Troubles and Public Issues’…
This was on Fresh Records, a deal that Rab had arranged with both Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69 and Pete Wilson as Producer (Sham 69, The Jam, Angelic Upstarts). There were two album covers both created this time by Andy Griffiths: The main cover was a sketch in colour of the lead singer Ivan Kelly, the second and rarer cover was a black and white photograph of Andy dressed in military fatigues and gas mask, crouched in the foetal position, with Crass-like lettering round the edge. The 'Personal Troubles' album saw the line up changed to Kelly (ex Ruefrex) on vocals, Andy on Bass, Rab on Drums, Nick Ward and Andy Forbes (ex of The Straps, joining the band at end of recording) on guitar, with Pete Wilson adding an extra guitar and occasional piano. In fact the overall production of the album was done by Pete Wilson as Pursey seemed to be more focused in getting to know Honey Bane in the toilets, who had visited the studio during the band's 'Ghetto' single recording. As a result, on the album, Pete Wilson was credited as sole producer. (There were some stories levelled at the time that the album perhaps wasn't produced to the exacting specifications of some other bands of the day, mainly due to line up changes perhaps or the hurried recording schedule, even Pursey's waywardness, who knows? But the 12 songs on the album, including the single 'Ghetto' have stood the test of time well, which again was helped by the high levels of song writing and experimentation. It also remained high in the Indie charts for many weeks).
As a footnote, the album could be reissued alongside 'Dirges and Anthems' on disc as a package to compliment the Punk Collection CD album 'best of' from the late 90's. This is being worked on by Claire Bidwell (ex Passions) who later played bass for The Wall and Neil Wilkes who sound engineered on the 2007 Rebellion tour and did a brilliant production job on the band's recent live album.
You guys had a final release, ‘Day Tripper’, tell us about that…
During the end of the Polydor time, they agreed to do a final 12 " and 7" EP for No Future records. This was the point that I joined the band as a guitarist, after being asked by Rab to help him, Andy and Claire Bidwell in both the studio and some live gigs at venues like Ronnie Scott's and the Blue Coat Boy Skunx. The 12" had ten tracks on it while the 7" had four, consisting of some experimental but still catchy songs and a couple of classic covers, one being Slade's 'When I'm Dancing', the other being the Bealtles title track, slightly influenced by the Sham/Pistols collaboration of a few years before. I was only just 18 at the time of the 'Day Tripper' recordings and it was certainly one of the best times of my life. The demos were recorded in Chelsea at the Polydor Studios (where Ian Dury had occasionally recorded) and the final recordings were completed at Crass' legendary Southern Studios. It was a fantastic experience and I won't ever forget briefly meeting both Penny Rimbaud and Steve Ignorant of Crass there. An added bonus was also to be in the 'Day Tripper' band interview and photo shoot for Melody Maker.
What was it like working with Polydor back then?
The Polydor deal had been as a result of Rab's early experience drumming for Patrick Fitzgearld who was also on the label. Rab then became good friends with both Pete Wilson and Dennis Munday who then offered the band the contract with the major label. The Wall then immediately demoed and recorded the second album 'Dirges and Anthems'. Out of this came the Stiff Little Fingers '81 'Go For It' tour support offer, which was a highlight of the bands sometimes inconsistent live appearances, due to the line up changes. The band is still well remembered though from this highly successful tour. The line up of the band at this point; Andy (Vocals), Andy Forbes (Guitar), Rab (Drums) and a stand-in on bass, became one of the only support band's to play large venues, like the Glasgow Apollo, and receive encores. Something unheard of at the time. Sounds magazine even reviewed one of the gigs as if the Wall was actually headlining, so powerful was the performance. Overall, however the major label deal tended to a be bit of a noose around the band's neck - most of the finest tunes arguably being released on the various indie labels, despite a few exceptions like 'Barriers', 'Remembrance' and 'Money Whores', as the band had more control of their own output and they could take more risks.
The band split up in 1982/83, what caused the split?
Punk was dying and many bands who once were filling venues out, were finding ever diminishing audiences to play too. The Oi movement too had perhaps tended to polarise many of the groups into factions and violence was an everpresent, which contrasted greatly with the freedom of expression which had marked the early punk days. The 'uniforms' of punk which the band had so powerfully sung about had become reality and if you didn't have a Mohican hair style or sniff glue, your devotion to the cause was doubted. The band also wanted to go their separate ways, with Rab starting up his own record label RFB, later on producing and releasing the likes of the UK Subs (with Rab on drums), Condemned '84, Broken Bones, the last of which he managed. Andy Griffiths wanted to return to art college and both Claire and myself moved on as musicians to other projects and other bands.
You guys reformed in 2007, what sparked you guys to what to reform the band?
I set up a Myspace site as a tester in late 2006 to see what sort of reaction there would be and also to collect the information/history and pictures regarding the band, which had been underrated for such a long time. I was completely overwhelmed by the response. I really didn't think anyone would give much of a toss. There turned out to be some really loyal Wall fans, many from Scotland and Northern England who had been especially affected by the tour with SLF in '81. Fans such as Snaba Noble from Fraserburgh (Red Brigade, Decontrol)were determined to see the band play again and a reunion and appearance at the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool's Winter Gardens in 2007 and a tour resulted soon after, which was another great experience. Also another first as 6 original members took part with 4 guitarists and 2 bassists so many of the gigs had a rolling line up, which told the story of the band. Fans like Snaba also ended up contributing the inner sleeve notes of the Live CD album about the Rebellion gig which he attended.
Are there plans for any new releases from the Wall?
The latest 20 track release 'The Wall - Live', on Captive Records, was recorded from the Rebellion tour and live sessions in 2007. Both the 'Personal Troubles' and 'Dirges' albums could be reissued on CD soon, as already mentioned. The band is also looking at more future releases and perhaps gigs too so watch this space.
Where have you toured?
Back in the day, the Wall toured the length and breadth of the UK with many bands. Most recently, mainly in Northern England, Manchester and London on the Rebellion tour etc.
Do you prefer to do shows in small clubs or large venues?
I think it really depends on so many factors, sound, audience, atmosphere, performance and each have their advantages and disadvantages. The many gigs that are remembered well were in very large venues, but then some of the dingier, claustrophobic venues represented more of the punk spirit and so were more preferable.
The audience at a punk gig never lies, so you know instantly if you're going down well or not. In larger venues this could sometimes be more difficult to suss out.
You guys have been thru a few line-up changes, tell us about the current lineup…
Andy Griffiths (Vocals), Nick Ward, Joe Hammond, Andy Forbes, Al Gregg (Guitars), Claire Bidwell (Bass), Mark Dyvig (Drums), Neil Wilkes (Engineer, producer)
Is there a favorite band you like to do shows with?
Back in the day: UK Subs, The Straps, Stiff Little Fingers, Angelic Upstarts, Cockney Rejects, The Adverts, The Lurkers, Chelsea More recently; English Dogs, Abrasive Wheels, Varukers, Blitzkrieg
Is there a favorite place you like to do shows at?
What do you see is the future of the Wall?
Watch this space, as already mentioned.
How can people contact the band?
Through the website www.thewallmusic.co.uk