POLECAT ON THE GO!
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 188.8.131.52’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.