Sunderland, England’s Leatherface released their first record in 1988. In 2010, they release The Stormy Petrel and 2011 saw the release of a live record, Viva La Arthouse on their own imprint, Big Ugly Fish.
Scene Point Blank caught up with bassist Graeme Philliskirk to talk about playing Fest 7, as well as what it’s like to be play in such a legendary band.
Scene Point Blank: This was your first Fest, right? Did it meet your expectations?
Graeme: Yep, it was our first time and we hope not the last. It blew us away! It’s an amazing Fest and you have to thank Tony and the crew for the hard work they do, year after year, to keep live music and bands going like this where so many people can have such a great time.
Scene Point Blank: Who was your favorite band to watch?
Graeme: I probably missed more bands that I wanted to see, but we watched so many bands and I really would not like to single any band out as there were so many good shows. The thing is: you would walk by some place and you just walked in if there was something you liked. And you would be there ‘til the end of the show and you would be like, “Who the hell is this playing?” It was so good to come across stuff you just did not know.
Scene Point Blank: What’s your dominant memory from playing Fest 7?
Graeme: I have so many memories, most of which, I suppose, are not really interesting to most people. It was more the sense of being there. The first day we got there I remember I slept in the van, waking up and looking outside the motel and thinking, “Fuck, I’m in Gainesville!” Florida has a different feel and look compared to other States.
As for playing the Fest, where do you start? Frankie had made his way to The Venue and we said we would all meet up there. We had been watching some really good bands and realized we had to get to The Venue as we were due to play within 30 minutes. I came backstage with the rest of the guys and Security asked who we were and said that Frankie was getting worried. We walked in and Frankie said, “I thought I was going to have to play by myself!”
Within minutes we walked on and the crowd was fucking awesome. They were with us all the way and it was just carnage. We were shouted back on and I changed my top and I put our home football team’s shirt on (Sunderland). It’s red and white and is the same colours as our Leatherface logo. Frankie ran over and kissed the badge and we charged into “Dead Industrial.” When we left the stage, I threw the shirt into the crowd, so someone has my football shirt. After the show I jumped off the stage and the floor area looked like a battlefield with glass, cans, and all sorts of debris. It was pretty cool.
Scene Point Blank: You had the final Fest set that year. Were you pretty much drained at that point?
Graeme: Leading up to it, yeah, it can feel that way. You have to dig deep to do the show, but once you walk on and the crowd are so good, as they were that night, you’re ready to explode. After I walked back onto the stage when everyone had left, I stood with Tony, had a beer with him and, to be honest, we were fine compared to Tony. He was fucked.
Scene Point Blank: You had a weeklong tour afterwards. Were you able to recover your energy? Is playing Fest different than regular touring?
Graeme: Yeah, we had a great tour. When you do this you have this built-in mechanism that conditions you. It’s kind of weird, actually, and I think even stranger for Frankie being the singer. Sometimes he amazes me how he pulls so deep to do this, night after night.
People are different and we all have our own little ways of dealing with touring. We all have our moments and we all help each other at times. That’s what being in a band is about. Sometimes it can be hard, other times so easy. When you finish the tour, you look back and think, “Wow, that was great. How lucky we are and it was worth all the hard work!”
Scene Point Blank: Viva La Arthouse, was made by your arrangement, without telling the rest of the band about the recording. How did you decide to do that? How did it go over with the rest of the band?
Graeme: We had talked about recording the gig previously, but Matt [Bodiam of Poison City Records] was pretty tired and really busy with the Poison City Weekender, etc. So he spoke to Andrew and they thought that they would just leave it. When I get pretty focused on something I tend to want to see it through, so I spoke with them and said, “Look, let’s do this. If it doesn’t sound good then we won’t use it, but let’s keep it quiet so the lads just enjoy the last gig of the tour.” So it was recorded.
I listened to the playback at the end of the tour in Melbourne. Let’s just say I was convinced enough to suggest we release it. We got back to the UK and I said to Frankie, “We recorded the gig. I think you should listen to the recording…what about putting it out?” The rest is history.
Scene Point Blank: Did you listen to the tribute record? Is it awkward to hear others’ interpretations?
Graeme: Yeah, we all listened to it, and it wasn’t awkward at all. I think it is really good and some great versions of the songs—we’re very honored.
Great work by Rubber Factory, John Di Marco, and the gang. They just got on with it.
Scene Point Blank: Leatherface has had quite a run of bassists. How did you join the band?
Graeme: I got drunk and said I would do it, haha! Actually, Davey [Lee Burdon] had told me he was going on to work on Former Cell Mates and as I knew the band so well—I’ve been friends with them all for so many years—he couldn’t think of anyone better, which was very flattering. I knew the band and the history, but being a guitarist it did worry me playing the bass and filling the shoes of so many talented bassists.
After Davey’s last tour Dickie also called me up and asked if I would consider doing it. At that point I had already spoken to Frankie. We met up and, after many beers, I woke in the morning and realized I said I would do it.
Scene Point Blank: How many bass players has Leatherface had now? Is it daunting to join such a rotating spot? Do you feel hexed?
Graeme: Haha. Yeah, that’s one way of looking at it I suppose. How many bass players, well…
[To confirm his list, he calls Dickie, who is at the bar drinking, to confirm. Dickie also forgets one or two.]
Stu Schooler (who I was in Ran with and a friend)
Andy Creighton (we all miss him and a good friend)
Davey Lee Burdon (a good friend who is now living in the US)
It’s very daunting when I look at this list, especially when I know how talented some of these dudes are and what they have achieved—pretty scary, really. Not just the fact that there have been so many different faces playing the bass, but also the work that has been crafted out by some of them. To be associated with Leatherface and some of these names still gets me at times if I stop and think about it. You never know what’s around the corner in anything you do, but I would like to think Leatherface and I have so much still to offer and my aim is to carry that on.
Scene Point Blank: How is Big Ugly Fish working out? Is it one guy or a collective effort?
Graeme: We are happy with Big Ugly Fish. I would maybe like to do more, but it’s down to time. You can only do so much. I’m looking at various Leatherface stuff, obviously. Frankie and I have talked about doing some Stubbs releases, and we put out The Sainte Catherines’ last release so, yeah, it’s going well.
I tend to do most of the work. Frankie comes in and out when required. A big shout has to go to Paul le Hat, who does a lot for the label behind the scenes, especially when we are on tour etc. Hopefully we will have some news for a new release next year.