Sophie Thunder-Murphy is an electric New York City based artist.
Sophie Thunder-Murphy is an electric New York City based artist.
“When I started Chenpeng I was twenty-four. I always knew what I wanted”. Designer Peng Chen.
We just love this latest menswear editorial, “Here Come the Nice”, which hails from the UK.
Tim Polecat Worman is the red haired vocalist for the legendary neo-rockabilly band The Polecats. The Polecats were formed in the UK in the late seventies and still perform around the world. Successful chart songs include “Make a Circuit With Me” and “John, I’m Only Dancing.” We were very excited that this talented musician agreed to a photo session and interview for Ponyboy, as we have been big fans for years. Tim also allowed us access to images from his own personal collection of photographs from over the years. Read our interview with this extraordinary musical icon. Portraits by ALEXANDER THOMPSON. Additional photos courtesy of Tim Polecat.
PONYBOY: Tim, please tell us about your childhood and teen years in the UK.
TIM POLECAT: I was born in 1963 and grew up in suburban North London. I guess I am a product of that era of U.K. pop culture. I remember the 1966 World Cup final, as well as the Moon landing. I grew up obsessed by American comic books, British sci-fi TV and most of all rock ‘n’ roll music. And to be honest, nothing much has changed.
PONYBOY: How did The Polecats come about?
TIM POLECAT: I got an electric guitar for my 12th birthday. A few days later a kid from my boy scout troop knocked on my door and asked if he could have a go on it. This was, of course, Boz Boorer. We exchanged all our guitar playing knowledge and he soon also acquired an electric guitar. Boz and I jammed with various local musicians until we ran into Phil Bloomberg, who I knew from primary school. Phil was just switching from cello to bass guitar, and we soon recruited him. Chris Hawkes, another primary school friend of mine, was just learning drums. So, we learned a bunch of rockabilly and punk rock covers, and pretty soon had some of our own songs, which were mostly written by Phil and Boz. At first our band was called The Cult Heroes (which was supposed to be ironic), but this became problematic when we tried to get gigs in rock ‘n’ roll clubs, who presumed that we would not fit in. Chris had recently found a bunch of stickers with a picture of a stretched out cat and the word ‘Polecat” on them. So, we decided that this sounded a lot more in keeping with the direction of the band, and we started using it and very soon we were playing the U.K. teddy boy circuit. After a lot of saving up, Boz got a Gretsch guitar and Phil switched to a double bass, which was inspired by American acts like Ray Campi. I moved from guitar to lead vocals. And that was the basic prototype and we just took it from there. The Polecats have remained basically unchanged since the addition of John Buck around 1983. We have a few squad players, but the team is still the same.
PONYBOY: What was the rockabilly scene like back then in the U.K.?
TIM POLECAT: The rockabilly scene in the U.K. grew out of the teddy boy scene. I think it was a lot of younger Ted’s searching for a new identity of their own, separate from the Ted movement, which was at this point getting a little stale and was very narrow-minded. Newly discovered raw sounding fifties music was being discovered and I think it was only natural that it would develop it’s own visual style. In hindsight though, it was very expensive to dress like a Ted and to do it properly without being a “Plastic” and very hard for the younger audience, many of who were still in school. The “Rockabilly Rebel” look was a very DIY thing and was within the reach of a creative jumble sale and charity shop patron. A short time later the rockabilly scene got more elaborate, fashion wise, with reproduction versions of the more flamboyant fifties attire popping up on King’s Road and in Kensington Market. Also, shops like Flip were buying real vintage items from the USA by the masses and shipping them over. The music on the scene was always based around the rediscovery of forgotten gems, and later on bands that reinvented the raw sound of those fifties records.
PONYBOY: Did the Polecats have a bigger following back then in the rockabilly scene or more so in the punk/new wave scene?
TIM POLECAT: The Polecats started playing exclusively in the teddy boy/rockabilly scene in Europe. It wasn’t until we saw bands such as Levi and the Rockats, Whirlwind and American acts like Robert Gordon (playing in mainstream venues) that we thought it would even be possible to play outside our own scene, let alone play on the same bill as a punk or new wave band . It was only when we started playing in colleges and mixed venues that we started to pick up a more diverse audience. We toured with Rockpile, which put us in front of their mainstream audience and got us out into previously unexplored territories like Scotland and Wales. As soon as we had a record deal we were playing in Scandanavia and Europe, where the market for rockabilly was opening up. In Finland in the eighties, The Polecats, Stray Cats and Crazy Cavan all had records in the mainstream charts at the same time.
PONYBOY: How did that incredible style evolve for the band? Was there a lot of thought put into the look?
TIM POLECAT: We did put a lot of thought both into our style and our sound, but it was something that developed organically and wasn’t an overnight thing. I have to admit that after seeing Levi and the Rockats, we made a conscious decision to up our game visually. We also had a bit of a rethink in the performance department after seeing The Cramps for the first time. We would borrow and adapt from a wide range of influences, both visually and musically. Of course, it was much harder to do in those days because we did not have the access to information that is taken for granted these days and also did not have unlimited funds to bring our ideas into reality.
PONYBOY: The band eventually broke up in the mid-eighties and you ended up in Los Angeles. What was that like for you as an artist and on a personal level?
TIM POLECAT: Actually, The Polecats had only really become nonoperational between 1984 and 1988. We have been playing constantly since then, despite my move to the USA. Our fan demographic became increasingly international, so meeting up on foreign soil from different base camps works very well. I have always been interested in Americana and it made sense to move to Hollywood when the opportunity arose. My day job was in the film industry and there was a lot of work in the late eighties for a British production designer. I have worked on hundreds of projects in the visual medium, but mostly work as a producer these days.
PONYBOY: Tell us about the band 13 Cats and how that formed. It’s an incredible ensemble of musicians.
TIM POLECAT: 13 Cats started after a successful double bill tour of Japan with The Polecats and The Rockats. Smutty Smith and I both lived in Hollywood and wanted to keep the party going. He had just reconnected with Slim Jim and I had been in touch with Danny Harvey ever since the late seventies. We got together for a jam session and it developed from there. At first we just intended to do covers with 13 Cats, but very quickly we had an entire set of original songs. The vibe of 13 Cats was a darker, black leather rock ‘n’ roll, which was in contrast to the sugary sweet swing movement that was going on around that time. We crossed over into the surf/garage scene and even had a track on a Dionysus compilation. We played shows with The 18.104.22.168’s, Guitar Wolf, The Bomboras and Hasil Atkins. The band only lasted a few years, but we did one LP that I am very proud of and we still perform together on very special occasions.
PONYBOY: What bands are you playing in now?
TIM POLECAT: Right now I am playing live with the regular Polecats and my own Tim Polecat Trio, which has rotating members, depending on availability and location. I also play with Slim Jim in his trio. Recently I have done a few shows fronting Polecats tribute bands, which although sounds like a strange concept, works really well. In more recent years I have been concentrating on playing lead guitar (with a thumb pick), while singing at the same time. This is possibly to prepare for the day when I can’t drop kick and stage dive anymore!
PONYBOY: You left Los Angeles recently, after so many years, and moved to Palm Springs. What brought that about?
TIM POLECAT: In this day and age, being an artist and musician has two big requirements–the internet and an airport! Palm Springs has both of those facilities and is very mid-century modern looking, which I am totally into. I’m setting up a small recording studio and an art facility here.
PONYBOY: Lastly, you’ve probably been asked this a million times before, but please tell our readers what musicians have really inspired you in the past, and what newer bands you enjoy now.
TIM POLECAT: The bands and musicians that most inspired me were essentially fifties rockabilly, seventies glam and seventies punk. Also, add to that the teddy boy bands of the mid- seventies. The early influences of The Polecats came a lot from our original drummer Chris Hawkes, who had two older brothers that would buy rockabilly records frequently. In the mid- seventies during school lunch times (which would often extend into afternoon truancy), we would sit around Chris’s house and listen to all the rediscovered gems that were surfacing during this time. It seemed like every week a major record company would delve into their archives and release a compilation of killer tracks. MCA, Capitol, Mercury, RCA, MGM, Imperial and Chess all had their own “rockabilly” LPs. The Polecats also added to our musical repertoire by frequenting clubs such as The Royalty, and memorizing our favorite tracks. We would sometimes even sneak in a cassette recorder to tape the songs we wanted to play. I think our musical influences as a band are quite self-evident from the cover versions we pick. However, some are hidden quite deep. For example, a lot of the songs that I wrote with Phil are inspired by northern soul and 1977 punk. Unless I pointed out the specifics, no one would know. I am very bad at keeping up with current trends, but I have to say that Furious and The Ceazers seem to be the stand out newer bands to me from the rocking scene. As for mainstream music, nothing has really caught my attention for decades, apart from Die Antwoord, who have an audio visual style that is impossible to ignore.
This trio hail from the streets of Liverpool and are being tipped as the UK’s break-out band. With a relentless touring schedule, Furious have been cemented as one of the hardest working and wildest live acts around. Their appeal crosses so many borders and with their self penned songs about teenage life today, they are turning the world’s kids onto a wild rock ‘n’ roll beat.
Even from their early days playing in youth clubs around Liverpool, they caused a big stir. They have starred on MTV as ambassadors for the Liverpool music scene. Their debut album reached number 10 in the UK vinyl charts (above Elton John & Thin Lizzy). They have been featured on the computer game ‘Rock Band’ with one of their songs ‘All Night Long’. And more recently, they’ve just joined Wild Records label with a new album From the Cavern to California destined to cause a stir.
They have played countless gigs abroad, all over Europe. And following two successful tours of Russia and America, it looks like Furious are about to take Viva Las Vegas by storm. The critics are already comparing it to the arrival of The Beatles. So, prepare yourself. This isn’t for the faint of heart. This is the real roots of rock ‘n’ roll!
Editor’s note: Ponyboy was pleased to have Mike Lewi, co-creator from New York City’s infamous “Midnite Monster Hop” as our guest interviewer, as well as photo contributions by the very talented Elisa Gierasch.
MIKE LEWI: You’re on the eve of performing at the 2014 Viva Las Vegas festival to thousands of people, a primarily American audience. How do you anticipate a teddy boy band being accepted by that audience?
FURIOUS: If it’s anything like our shows around New York or California, it’s going to be crazy! We haven’t been let down by American audiences yet, so we’re expecting “crazy” on a big scale!
MIKE LEWI: What do you bring that may be considered new to American audiences?
FURIOUS: Ugly, out of control rock ‘n’ roll! We’re the anti-pretentious, anti-poser rock ‘n’ roll that seems to be everywhere these days.
MIKE LEWI: Can you explain for Ponyboy readers the history of Edwardian culture?
FURIOUS: Teddy boys were working-class teenagers who bought expensive threads on layaway to better themselves when they had nothing, and to show the upper classes they wouldn’t bow down and be quiet – to then go and drink and brawl in them. Basically, they were the scallies of the 50’s and it’s been going right through the years since then as an underground sub-culture.
MIKE LEWI: You’ve met and been inspired by many men and women that grew up in the bombed out rubble of post WWII England, at the birth of the original teddy boy movement. How did those originators of the first teenage rebellion wave define themselves at a time that actually even preceded rock’n’roll?
FURIOUS: It was the clothes and the attitude, to look smart and answer to no one. They had no blueprint or predecessors to base themselves on. These were the first “teenagers” to leave bomb-raids and rationing behind and they were going to make the most of it.
MIKE LEWI: You started your band at a very young age. Please tell us how that came about.
FURIOUS: We were just kids in school dying to hear some rock ‘n’ roll, but there was none about so we started a band. There was never a plan, we were just lads having a bit of fun. And that’s what it still is. We’d play the dives and dirty clubs around Liverpool, anywhere that would pay an underage band in beer. And then the word spread.
MIKE LEWI: I have heard that your parents grew up within the ted culture, so is it safe to assume you’ve lost touch with the world outside of rock’n’roll?
FURIOUS: That’s not really the case. Rock ‘n’ roll was the soundtrack to our childhood, but we were just scallies growing up. We looked like skin heads as well, because there wasn’t much money back then and our grandad would “style” our hair with his old army clippers. It was a skinhead every time!
MIKE LEWI: Are your parents proud of you?
FURIOUS: We hope so, but they party every time we leave the country. Don’t know what they’re trying to tell us!
MIKE LEWI: Considering the amount of original teds still regularly supporting rock’n’roll events, and many of the original rock’n’roll revival bands consistently still playing live, what has been the reaction towards Furious by UK and European audiences?
FURIOUS: It’s been great! Better than we could have ever expected. Right from day one, the original teds took us under their wing. And wherever we go, there will be a good crowd of them going crazy til’ the early hours.
MIKE LEWI: I know over the years you’ve had some various line-up changes. Tell us about Jimmy.
FURIOUS: We met Jimmy at a gig in an old ted pub in London where he was playing with another band. We were going through drummers like bog roll at the time. So after a few pints, he foolishly agreed to play some shows with us in Sweden and that was him trapped! He slotted in like an old mate we’d known for years.
MIKE LEWI: Is it strange to bring what, in some respects, is American music back to America?
FURIOUS: There’s so much talent stateside, we were surprised there was room for us. The music we go mad for happens to be rock’n’roll and that just happens to be American. So as strange as it is, we enjoy the challenge and look forward to dodging the old tomatoes and beer cans!
MIKE LEWI: You’ve just recorded your second album. How was that process different from recording with Nervous Records?
FURIOUS: Well, this was a strange thing for us! Normally, we record locally or wherever Roy Williams can book us into a studio in between our live shows. So, every time it’s been a different process. But we gained some attention from the gigs we played up and down California last summer, which lead to an exciting invitation by Reb Kennedy from Wild Records to join his label! The entire experience was mental! One day we were in Liverpool, and then all of a sudden, we were in his studio recording new tracks at a lightning pace (16 songs in 10 hours). Hours later, we were flying out of Hollywood back home! We haven’t heard the mixes yet, but Reb is really excited and we hope you’re all going to love it.
MIKE LEWI: You’ve recorded a cover on your first LP, Punk Bashin Boogie, originally recorded by Don E. Sibley, who wrote the song at the height of the teds versus punks war in the 1970’s. Have you ever met Don? Are there teds that still hold these views?
FURIOUS: Yeah, we met Don. He came to a show we played in Southampton years ago. The drummer out of the Dixie Phoenix was a punk as well, so the song was just a bit of fun back then, like it is today. And I can’t say we know of teds who still get wound up by punks. A lot of the anger towards punks came from them wearing signature ted clothing (creepers, drapes), and covering Eddie Cochran songs and claiming them as their own. Today teds, punks, mods and skins have got a lot more in common with each other, than not.
MIKE LEWI: Are we living through the rock ‘n’ roll revival revival?
FURIOUS: We’re not sure if anything is being revived, but we’re living through some amazing times. We’re playing shows right across the world with the music and people we love! We can’t get any more lucky than that, can we?
MIKE LEWI: How do you feel sharing the bill with Crazy Cavan at this upcoming Viva Las Vegas?
FURIOUS: We’ve been lucky enough over the years to share the stage with these ted legends on loads of occasions. But this feels a little more special. Not only were these rockers a massive weapon in orchestrating the 70’s revival, they have played a big part in what we are and the music we play too! So, seeing our name on the same bill in Las Vegas is a huge honor!
MIKE LEWI: Do you have any future plans for Furious?
FURIOUS: We just want to make that perfect rock ‘n’ roll record. We might never do it, but we’ll keep on trying until it kills us!