Features Interviews James Stevenson

Interviews: James Stevenson

James Stevenson has been involved in the music scene for over twenty-five years. First tearing it up alongside the first British punk bands with punk pioneers Chelsea. Then a brief stint in Generation X followed, playing alongside Billy Idol and Terry Chimes (The Clash). After that band collapsed, Stevenson was tapped to fill the lead guitarist slot in Gene Loves Jezebel. He played on some of their most popular records from the mid-80's and beyond. After activity with that outfit slowed down, he was asked to join the "Mark II" version of The Alarm. In addition to Mike Peters, the line-up also includes Craig Adams (The Mission UK) and Steve Grantley (Stiff Little Fingers). After more than five years together, this outfit has solidified into a rock solid live band. Check out their latest release Guerilla Tactics, which was mixed by Gilby Clarke of Guns and Roses and comes with a bonus DVD. But Stevenson has always looked to push the envelope as a guitarist. He also did a stint with The Cult on tour in the mid-1990's, guested on a Tricky record and even helped produce a NOFX tribute record! Clearly Stevenson is a musical force to be reckoned with and I was lucky enough to get him to spend some time discussing his past and his plans for the future.

Scene Point Blank: When did you first start playing music?

James Stevenson: I started playing guitar when I was eleven for a few months. I didn't take it up again until I was fourteen.

Scene Point Blank: What artists/bands were you listening to at the time?

James Stevenson: The whole glam rock thing in England: Bowie, Roxy, Bolan, Mott. Mick Ronson was the main reason I picked up a guitar again at fourteen. No one's playing has moved me like his since. He was a real master in my opinion. Not because he was a technical wizard but because he always played the perfect part for the song.

Scene Point Blank: What was the name of your first band?

James Stevenson: The first band I was in at school was called Metro

Scene Point Blank: How did you become a member of Chelsea?

James Stevenson: I actually auditioned for Chelsea from an advert in Melody Maker. I was still at school. I wanted to be in a punk band as soon as it started happening.

Scene Point Blank: What songs are you most proud of with Chelsea?

James Stevenson: To be honest the new album Faster, Cheaper and Better Looking is my favorite I've recorded with the band. I really like "Mr. Ferry's Son", which drummer Chris Bashford sang because I'm against all bloodsports and Otis Ferry is a particularly grade A prat. Sadly it's only on the American release. I love "Trouble Is the Day" off the first album. I'm proud of the solo I did on that.

Scene Point Blank: What gig from the early days of this band stand out?

James Stevenson: When we supported The Clash in early ?78. Give ?Em Enough Rope hadn't come out yet and they were opening with "Tommy Gun." On a good night they were one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time. Also, when we did a residency for a week in Gibus Club in Paris in ?78. I had my twentieth birthday there. It was a lot of fun.

Scene Point Blank: Did you ever think the original members would reform and release another record?

James Stevenson: No. Not until we got together for the Social Chaos tour in ?99. I hadn't seen Chris Bashford for nearly twenty years! We're great mates again now.

Scene Point Blank: What songs on Faster Cheaper and Better Looking were the most enjoyable to create?

James Stevenson: Personally I like "Living In The Urban UK," "Sod The War," "Cosy Family Way," "Ritalin Kid" and "Mr. Ferry's Son." Chris and I were rolling around laughing as we wrote the lyrics.

Scene Point Blank: Tell me about your time in Generation X.

James Stevenson: Well I was only in the band for like five minutes at the end! After Billy left Tony James rang me and said "Sorry, you've joined a sinking ship." It was a shame because the band was just starting to really gel. The funniest thing is I think Derwood thinks I want to be him. First I replaced him in Gen X and twenty years later I married his girlfriend and partner in Westworld Elizabeth Westwood!

Scene Point Blank: What was the most memorable gig with Generation X and were there any that you would like to forget?

James Stevenson: My favorite was the first I ever did at a big rehearsal studio in World's End in Chelsea. We got a stage in and did a private party gig. Everyone from the scene came down. It was a great night!

Scene Point Blank: Largest crowd that you played with Generation X?

James Stevenson: All the gigs I did were small club gigs. The band had decided to go out and reclaim from the bottom up. I love club gigs. Hot and rammed.

Scene Point Blank: Were you involved in the songwriting process with this band?

James Stevenson: No. It was a closed shop with Billy and Tony. Derwood's told me recently he wrote the riff for "Dancing With Myself." If he did I think the fact he hasn't got a writing credit is a disgrace.

Scene Point Blank: Do you have a favorite recording session with Generation X?

James Stevenson: I only ever recorded live with the band. A BBC in Concert gig.

Scene Point Blank: What was Hot Club?

James Stevenson: After Billy left Gen X I did a year as a professional mimer with Kim Wilde. I missed playing live massively. I put Hot Club together with Glen Matlock as the antidote. But ironically Mickie Most who signed us to RAK wouldn't give us tour support to go out on the road!

Scene Point Blank: How did you join up with Gene Loves Jezebel?

James Stevenson: I was playing in another band with Glen with Gary Holton singing. It was actually a great band. We had the same management as GLJ. When their guitarist Ian Hudson had a massive nervous breakdown at the onset of their first US tour they flew me out so they wouldn't have to cancel the tour. They were only about four gigs into a two monther. Gary Holton died of a drugs overdose while I was on that tour. Tragic. Mike and Jay Aston asked me to stay permanently and I did.

Scene Point Blank: What gigs with this outfit sticks out in your mind?

James Stevenson: That first US tour. It was chaos but the atmosphere was incendiary! It'll all be in my book "Twenty Five Years in the Rock And Roll Wilderness." If I ever finish it! Also, when we supported Bowie at Milton Keynes.

Scene Point Blank: What was the most rewarding recording session with Gene Loves Jezebel?

James Stevenson: We had a lot of great times in the studio. I'm proud of everything I've ever done with GLJ except possibly "Jealous," our biggest US hit. I never liked the riff I wrote, but everyone else did! I think my favourite GLJ albums that I'm on are Discover, Heavenly Bodies, and The Thornfield Sessions from 2002.

Scene Point Blank: How did you start playing with Mike Peters of The Alarm?

James Stevenson: Mike was looking for a guitarist for his solo band. Billy Duffy recommended me to Mike.

Scene Point Blank: What are some of the highlights for you from In the Poppy Fields?

James Stevenson: Actually I prefer a lot of the demos that came out on the five CD set The Poppy Fields Bond first. I played quite a lot of bass on the demos and I love to play bass. The Bond version of "Trafficking" is miles better than the one that came out on the actual album.

Scene Point Blank: How about for Under Attack?

James Stevenson: Under Attack was very much a band effort and I think it shows. It sounds like the new Alarm and not just a Mike Peters record. Lots of the songs were written together in rehearsals. It's cohesive. I'm very proud of it.

Scene Point Blank: What has been the most thrilling show that you have played with The Alarm?

James Stevenson: Well The Gatherings are always special. The one this year in 2007 was electrifying. Brilliant crowd. We played for nearly three hours!

Scene Point Blank: Largest show so far with The Alarm?

James Stevenson: We've done a few festivals in Europe with 20,000 plus.

Scene Point Blank: What bands/artists are you currently digging?

James Stevenson: There aren't many new bands I've seen that I like. I saw The Killers and Kasabian recently and thought they were both rubbish! They just don't put on a show! Maybe I'm getting old but when I think of the bands we had when I was young, or watch a DVD of Zep or Hendrix I always ask myself where are kids today of that caliber? Sometimes I think they're more interested in just being celebrities than making music. They want to be famous - that's goal number one. When I was young everyone I knew didn't give a fuck about anything other than being in a great band.

Scene Point Blank: What are some of your future plans?

James Stevenson: Well, my favorite thing to do is walk on stage and play my guitar - so that will definitely figure.

Scene Point Blank: Any chance of a U.S. Chelsea tour?

James Stevenson: Yes. We want to come and play next year. Faster, Cheaper? has had amazing reviews in the US so we want to come over - hopefully next spring.

Scene Point Blank: How about a solo record?

James Stevenson: If only I could sing! I will do one. Instrumental and left field probably.

Scene Point Blank: Thanks for your time!

James Stevenson: My pleasure.

Selected Discography:

  • Chelsea - Chelsea (1979)
  • Chelsea - Alternative Hits (1980)
  • Generation X - Kiss Me Deadly (1981)
  • Gene Loves Jezebel - Discover (1986)
  • Gene Loves Jezebel - The House of Dolls (1987)
  • Gene Loves Jezebel - Kiss of Life (1989)
  • Gene Loves Jezebel - Heavenly Bodies (1993)
  • Gene Loves Jezebel - In the Afterglow (1996)
  • Gene Loves Jezebel - From The Mouths of Babes: Some of the Best of Gene Loves Jezebel (1995)
  • Gene Loves Jezebel - VII (1999)
  • Gene Loves Jezebel - Live In the Voodoo City (1999)
  • Gene Loves Jezebel - Voodoo Dollies: The Best of Gene Loves Jezebel (1999)
  • The Alarm - Greatest Hits Live (2001)
  • Chelsea - Metallic F.O. (2002)
  • Gene Loves Jezebel - The Thornfield Sessions (2003)
  • The Alarm - In the Poppy Fields (2004)
  • The Alarm - Live in the Poppy Fields (2004)
  • Generation X - Live (2005)
  • Chelsea - Faster, Cheaper and Better Looking (2005)
  • The Alarm - Under Attack (2006)
  • The Alarm - Guerilla Tactics (2008)

Words: Sean K. | Photographs: Rob Dunsford | Graphics: Matt

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Words by Sean K. on Oct. 16, 2010, 11:05 a.m.

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Posted by Sean K. on Oct. 16, 2010, 11:05 a.m.

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