Simon Partridge

Interviewed on 28.11.2009

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CAYN WHITE:

I’m Cayn White and I’m here with a local musician Simon Partridge. Simon, you were born in Stoke and you moved into Halifax when you were ten years old. What are you earliest memories of the Halifax area and the music scene at that time?

SIMON PARTRIDGE:

I mean Halifax was a nice place to move into in the early 1980’s things were very promising. You know, the town centre seemed to be developing well, the Piece Hall was coming on extremely well and growing up on Savile Park was a nice place to be, if a little bit of a conservative place to be, certainly in terms of music there. When I started playing music there, there wasn’t many people playing rock music, it was still an alternative kind of thing, even in the eighties and the years afterwards. That’s probably the way I remember it to start with.

Growing up, what would you say your main musical influences were?

I think a lot of things…you know people tend to say things that maybe there were the first records that they bought, but I think I was actually taking a lot in when I was a lot younger than the actual record-buying age, so there were the kind of things that my mum and my dad were listening to you know, and I think the older you get the more you realise how much influence those things did have on you, so my dad was listening to things like ‘Rubber Soul’ by ‘The Beatles’ and ‘Ziggy Stardust’ by David Bowie, but he was also listening to a lot of kind of folk records, you know, around the kind of British folk boom, so people like ‘Pentangle’ - ‘Fairport Convention’ – Richard Thompson, things like that, and my mum was listening to things that were much more about words really than…so they were more like poems that were set to music or things that were subtler, so things like jazz singers like maybe Nina Simone, Paul Robeson and things like that. Was that the answer to the question? [laughing

In the Halifax area, what was the first gig you went to in the valley?

Ooh first gig, that’s a good question. I don’t really sort of remember it like that, I think one minute I wasn’t seeing bands and the next minute I was seeing bands. Bands were always the thing that happened in the pub, so I’d hear, you know, when I was at school, I’d hear ‘oh there’s so-and-so on happening on at ‘The Clarence’ or you know, was it ‘The Woodcock’ the one on Queen’s Road and I’d think ‘oh I’d quite like to be there really’ but you know I couldn’t get there because it was quite a way from where I lived and I didn’t have any transport, my parents weren’t interested in going to watch music, none of my friends were interested in going to watch music, particularly, so one minute I wasn’t going out and then the next minute, probably eighteen, started going out in Halifax and just going and watching bands at places like ‘Hangovers’ really and you know, then I would see bands lots, you know, all the time, but before that, I mean, I wasn’t seeing many bands at all so one of the first bands I remember seeing at ‘Hangovers’ was ‘McCooney’ and they were a really, really cheesy classic rock band and I remember standing there and slagging them off for playing ‘Whitesnake’ and they were hilarious really.

In your teens you started playing rock around Halifax. Could you tell us about that?

Yeah, I think when I was at school and I was learning – I learn things fairly slowly and it took me a long time to get to a point, you know, maybe five years to get to a point where I actually thought I had anything that was even vaguely good enough to play to anybody, but gradually people do get to know, you know, who’s really actually interesting in rehearsing week in week out, and…going off the question yet again, but anyway, the kind of, the first gigs I was going out and doing regularly were with a band called ‘Under Threat’ - now I’d grown up sort of listening to rockier kind of tracks and certainly when I was learning the guitar I was learning rock riffs, and that was what ‘Under Threat’ did very, very badly, so we did lots of that very, very badly for about eighteen months and terrorised various local communities with horrible rackets, such as heavy metal versions of ‘Paint it Black’ which I seem to remember as being particularly awful, but again with that it was nice that we were doing…we were doing the first ones of our own songs and that’s a really exciting experience for a young musician you know, when you’re just starting out and you actually get to go out and say ‘I came up with this at home, we learned it with the band, we made an arrangement and we’ve actually gone out and presented it at a really, really loud volume to an audience’ and the audience either really enjoyed it or responded to it somehow, and once you’ve got into the kind of cycle that’s very, very addictive and I really enjoyed that even though the band wasn’t maybe that great.

That’s good. So you ended up joining the band ‘Under Threat’. How did that come about?

I think most of the time you know, bands, when I’ve joined up with bands and players, people have a kind of tentative – it’s like being at a first date, where ‘oh I hear you play guitar’ you know, you’d be chatting to somebody in a pub, with me it was a guy called Kyle Farahearst and I was chatting to Kyle in this pub and then he’ll say ‘oh, why don’t you come down and have a play, it sounds like it might work’ and then that first kind of, that first rehearsal, it isn’t really a rehearsal, it’s more like a try-out you know, and people see ‘well, do I like this band and does this band like me and could this go somewhere’ – the thing I looked for and I think was lacking in a lot of the heavy rock bands was that they actually had somebody that could sing, and once, even though the drums were terrible, the guitar wasn’t great, the bass wasn’t great, they had somebody that could sing so that was kind of what drew me into joining up with them.

You say ‘Under Threat’ were well received by the local heavy metal scene

No, absolutely not, no, I mean we were playing things like – there’s a record called ‘The New Wave of British Heavy Metal ‘79 Revisited. Now that has lots and lots of really good aggressive, raw new wave sounds which are somewhere between what most people think as heavy metal and punk, and we were still trying to do that in 1990, but by this time of course most people were really heading towards, you know, the move was definitely towards things like ‘Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ and ‘Mud Honey’ and ‘Sound Garden’ and eventually things like ‘Pearl Jam’ and things like that, but we were still doing ’79 Revisited’ so no, it wasn’t very well received! [laughing]

You later became involved with the new music scene over in Bradford and which you got out of it a band called Sear Tears which I’ll ask you about later, what was that scene like and how did it differ from other music scenes in the area?

The Bradford scene was really pretty serious. There was people coming in from quite a wide range and some of the bands were actually making headway and people talk about a band breaking it and what does that mean, but some of the bands out of Bradford were breaking; I think it was led by earlier bands like ‘Sisters of Mercy’ but there was a kind of a response of further more extreme music, like ‘Paradise Lost’ – I mean I remember first hearing them and I just thought ‘what the hell is this?’ you know, ‘why would anybody buy this?’ but one it became clear that that was gonna work and these kind of bands were gonna break, then Bradford was spawning more and more rock bands. Again, bands tend to form up in places where there’s no money so there’s cheap meals or places to rehearse, you know, cheap digs where you can live while you’re at your rubbishy jobs and you get this kind of aspiration and drive to actually get somewhere, and a lot of the bands in Bradford did actually have that, so bands like ‘Terrorvision’ were a good example of that, where you know they actually got together and got on with it and got it done, so it was quite an exciting scene because there was the possibility of breaking and bands were not just playing in Bradford at, you know, places like Rio’s was a place that everybody played, but they were going off on tour, so you know, the excitement was that you could actually see some kind of goal; there was somewhere to go, there was something to do and there was something you could do with the band.

Round about that time that you’ve just mentioned, there was most probably low employment and people who did have jobs, they wasn’t very good jobs and most probably dead-end jobs. What was it like being a musician in that type of atmosphere?

I actually really enjoyed that time. You know..you know, I lived in a bed-sit and just worked in an office job to start with and I’d just enough money to get by every week, but the excitement was that you felt like you were getting somewhere and you know, normally a gang of lads get together and they’re trying to get somewhere and they’re going out and people are saying ‘this is really good’ so although in terms of money it was pretty poor, in terms of thinking ‘yeah this is gonna go somewhere, this is fantastic’ – we used to things like – tape trading was very popular and you know, you’d be getting up in the morning and you’d think ‘oh God I’ve got to go to work’ but then on the doormat, you know, the postman’s dropped in this tape from Greece or somewhere with you on this Greek radio show you know, playing some dodgy demo that you’d done in Bradford somewhere, it was…financially poor but, you know, good spirits, and lots of drinking as well as I remember.

From this scene you ended up joining Sear Tears as a member for their very first gig and line-up. How did that come about and what was it like being involved with them compared to ‘Under Threat’?

 Well I mean, the two bands really were – I mean both used distorted guitar and both had two guitars, bass, drums and vocals but other than, that they were completely, they were realms apart really, I mean Sears Tears was put together – it was the brainchild of two people – there was a drummer called Richard Beaumont who had grown up – his family were all drummers and so he was a very technical drummer, a very unusual drummer, certainly not a straight rock drummer that was what most people were doing then, and a guy called Mark Systarsovich and Mark had grown up listening to lots and lots of different things, and he was into kind of really extremely heavy music, but then quite a lot of sort of things like folk music and music from Eastern Europe and things like that, so anyway they had this sound together, and once that combined with the things that were happening in the Bradford scene that were heavy and down-tuned and you know, a lot of them were really, really slow, the kind of three things coming together was really, really exciting which we’d never have had anything like that in ‘Under Threat’ and instantly when I joined up with Mark it was about doing proper gigs. It was quite a difficult audition actually. I don’t know, you know, if you’ve done various auditions for bands but you go along and everyone’s like ‘go on then guitarist, show us what you can do’ but I kind of cheated cos I pretended I was just going along to listen, but actually I’d gone along and I’d already learned all the songs, so when they said ‘oh can you play something?’ I just started playing their songs and like ‘oh, he can play all the songs’ so I was straight in and we went out, and straight away we were doing things like, there used to be – probably still is – kind of heavy metal all-day events and you’d go along and because you were just starting out, you’d be bottom of the bill and I’ll make no bones about it, we’d just go and blow everybody away, because a lot of those bands were – they didn’t really have very much inspiration – they didn’t have anything different which we always did, and I think people will lie to you and say ‘oh it was all about camaraderie, we all had a bit of fun’ but it isn’t, you want people to thing you’re good, and with Sears Tears straight away, people were like ‘this is really good’ and it’s just a case of where they’re going; we were going somewhere else than other people. The problem was unfortunately I always take all my projects really personally and it mattered to me a lot and straight away I got in – not straight away – within a short period of time I got into kind of power struggles within the band with Mark, and they just got worse and worse, I mean we used to be terrible when we were young you know, we were like a, I don’t know, like a warring couple or something [laughing] you know, with the arguments and we’d end up shouting and we’d be insulting each other’s parents and all that kind of stuff. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we managed to hold it together for a number of years and get through doing an album but it wasn’t easy, it was hard, it was hard going and when you hear about bands falling out due to musical differences it get very personal and it isn’t a lot of fun, but it matters so you try and do it, but yeah, the two bands are worlds apart. ‘Under Threat’ was a bit of a laugh, going round some pubs, learning some craft, doing cheesy eighties stuff, Sear Tears was proper ground-cutting new music.

But in a load of music scenes you always get factions and different groups. Did you ever experience any of these factions and did they have a positive or adverse effect on any of your bands?

Yeah, I mean, I think people tend to band together and if somebody says you know ‘I’m a blues musician. I know you’re a blues musician and you’ll probably like my music’ those kinds of things, those can be useful but they can also, they can divide communities as well. I think a little bit of healthy competition in factions is really – you now it’s a great thing you know, so if you say ‘oh their gig was fantastic, I want our gig to be better than theirs’ or whatever, ‘actually that gig last week was fantastic so I’ll go back to that venue this week to see who they put on’. I think if I was saying…I think probably recently actually in Hebden has probably been the worst I’ve ever experienced it, because it seems to be beyond factions to almost sort of an incestuous point really, where you kind of see the same people at the same places a lot but not necessarily other people, you know, we tried to get roots into the Trades and I think for various reasons that was quite tricky, whereas for other people it was very, very easy, so I think you know, within, say for example, when we were doing Sear Tears and that kind of stuff, people were very supportive with each other within a scene. I think in terms of if somebody said ‘my venue does not put that kind of music on’ I’m very happy with that because that’s a commercial decision, and I can understand that, it makes sense. People say ‘look we always have – we always have really heavy music on and you’re not doing that, therefore you know, we can understand that, why you’ve made that decision’. I think where it gets more difficult is if you’ve got, say for example, there’s three or four musicians who have all got bands and they need some help together to set up a rehearsal studio, or something like that and because they’re divided and because they don’t get along, the rehearsal studio doesn’t get set up for anybody at all. Now I have been lucky in that a lot of the time people have helped me in that way, so people like Les Gillon has helped me you know, and other people have helped me, but I think yeah, I mean, I think the dividing factions question is a good one. I think as the scenes have splintered more, it does get to a point where the areas are so amazingly, amazingly small that people can’t actually draw up an audience, and I think to be honest with you, these days there is so many bands and there’s so much material out there, that it becomes like trying to just wade through a mass of stuff that you can’t possibly find anything, and people use – maybe use – ‘oh well it’s this genre’ – do you mean more kind of genre-based ideas or do you mean in different ways than that?

Groups within the genre.

….I don’t know, I mean I think, I mean I stopped doing Sear Tears in ’97 and I think since then I haven’t seen it…or come across it in that way. I think the way I’ve come across it more recently would be just more like what I was saying before, in terms of that some venues will say ‘we only have original stuff’ or ‘we only have this type of stuff’ or ‘you don’t this or you don’t that’. It’s something I’ve experienced recently. Certainly back in the day we always found that there were specific venues that put on that kind of heavy music and that would put up with you playing that kind of music, and they were about…they didn’t pay, they would put on music because it would draw some people in, it didn’t cost them much to do, they were generally fairly run-down as venues, they’d get in a sound man that was fairly cheap, you know, some kind of home-made bodged up PA and they’d put on what they’d call an all-dayer but basically meant they were getting ten bands for next to nothing and hope they covered it on the bar really, which were a lot of fun, I mean I remember doing one of those….we did one for a magazine called ‘Terroriser’ – I don’t know if you’ve come across it – ‘Terroriser’ is still going – extreme metal magazine - and they had a festival in London that we did and I ended up playing guitar for ‘Solstace’ down at that gig, and that was, it really was a lot of fun you know, it was just a load of people piling into a Transit van – ‘off down to London, off we go!’ you know, setting up, everything breaking down you know, people falling off stage cos they were so drunk. There was an Irish whistle player who danced about and then fell off the stage in an amusing way and everybody just thought it was the best thing about the day really, but I think my experience of factions in that way back then was always actually that it was quite a healthy thing. I think when I look at it now from the outside and I see other people going through it, what I see more is there’s just too much stuff out there. There are so many bands and there’s so much stuff that to actually make any headway is really, really, really hard, and to do anything that’s new is…you know, so to phrase a short answer to your original question….there is so much stuff out there these days it’s very, very, very hard to make any headway at all, and I think the more the scene splinters off, it’s not improving things. Sorry, that was terrible, never mind.

It’s alright. With so many bands coming in and out of the woodwork, a few venues do try and capitalise on this by introducing like a pay to play scheme where you actually have to pay to perform at certain venues. During your experiences in bands, have you actually had to experience that? Have you had to basically swallow your pride and pay to do a gig?

No, I’ve never paid to play. You know I mean, doing the covers, we get paid a lot of money to do that. Doing the covers band we get a lot of money to do that. When you’re doing original stuff I think if you’re stuff’s good enough it’s fair enough to go out and do a couple of gigs, a few gigs where maybe you’re making money on selling CDs, T-shirts as people have always done, but I don’t think people should pay to play. If you are having to pay to play, the question’s got to be ‘why am I not good enough that people wouldn’t want to pay to see me?’ It is hard getting people to know your stuff, but…no, I think doing supports where you don’t get paid is a much better route.

Over the years various music venues have come and gone. Have you any good or bad memories from any venues what are either still standing or have bitten the dust?

Yeah, I mean, I think a good music venue or a good event is…it’s just absolutely priceless because it puts a memory into people’s minds. I mean the stage falling down on the park in Hebden Bridge last year comes to mind as maybe not such a good memory but certainly something that will stick in my mind. The kind of good venues that I remember…I used to hate ‘Hangovers’ at the time which was, it’s now a Chinese restaurant but it was just off Bull Green in Halifax, but these days I look back at it and think ‘actually that was a pretty good venue’ you know, they had a decent sound, they had bands on all the time, they had some different types of band there, you didn’t have too much trouble in there, you know, decent place, clean enough, you know, it doesn’t sound a lot but some of the venues we’ve played have been really disgustingly smelly and foul and horrible, and I guess, I suppose, ‘Rio’s’ comes to mind really. ‘Rio’s’ was the archetypal horrid venue, it had horrid sound, horrid sound engineers, way too many bands so you were just kind of going in there, you never got paid, it was absolutely awful. It sounded foul, but people would go and it was…teeth-cutting you know, you’d go on a do a gig in a really, really difficult situation. I think one of my favourite venues is actually one I’ve never played at, which is the ‘Trades Club’ which I think should be a stunning venue, and I think you know with the right team running that place, that is a brilliant space. It sounds fantastic in there, it looks good, it’s the right size, you can get atmosphere, it’s got a stage in there already, it’s got good lighting, it’s even got decent beer which is, you know, pretty much everything you could ask for, and people keep saying to me ‘why do you never play there?’ or ‘why does it not happen there?’ I think when I moved into Hebden I assumed that what they had on there was world music, and that basically they didn’t have any regular music at all I mean, regular music – I mean kind of rock music, chart music, pop music, blues music, anything like that, but over the years they’ve proved me wrong. These days probably the only reason I don’t get there more is because we’re always out in some hole somewhere doing some corporate do like were whores, you know, which is probably not – not what I should be doing but you now, it pays the bills, so I think, yeah, I’d put the Trades up there as where I’ve had the most magical experiences, I mean we were taking earlier on about ‘Secret Green’ and ‘Secret Green’ was it…last year was just fantastic. I’d been in there watching Wilko Johnson, which I’d got into the gig for nothing. I watched a set that my mates played pretty well supporting him and then he came on and I just thought ‘this is fantastic’ and he had Normal Rock Roy on bass who’s one of the best bass players I’ve ever seen, and I was probably…I don’t know…twelve foot away from the guy and I thought ‘this is just perfect’ you know, sat with a nice comfy beer in a place which sounds good, watching somebody who’s a world class bass player for no money, you know, fantastic!

After sear Tears which again I’ll get onto a bit later, you ended up going to uni. What prompted the move to uni and what did you study there?

I think you know, one of the strange things or one of the interesting things for a musician is to reflect on the way that their life is at the time, and when I was in my early twenties I was basically responding to things that had been influenced by my teens, so in my teens I was obsessed with listening to you know, heavy rock bands like ‘Iron Maiden’ and Ozzy Osbourne and things like that, and in my early twenties I kind of responded to that by going out and doing extreme music in a rock band with a load of distortion and for some reason I think I’d read way too much in magazines such as ‘Guitarist’ and ‘Kerang’ which was a big magazine at the time, and I persuaded myself that if I did everything that these magazines said, that something mystical would happen and my life would sort itself out, and when I’d actually done all those things and gone on those stages and been in a recording studio and I realised that nothing was really happening at all, and time was passing by and I needed to do something else. Now, the mystical ‘Hangovers’ served one last purpose in that I was telling this story to my good friend Les Gillon one day, and I won’t do his voice cos that would be very insulting to him, but Les basically turned round and said ‘Look Simon, I’m starting this course – I’m involved in starting this course, it would be perfect for you, come over this week, do an interview and I did, and I never looked back really. I left behind….well, not left behind – I kind of put in a box for three years, the rock things that I’d been doing, but as I was challenged by new musical challenges and new questions I realised that I’d been in a fairly stilted state for a number of years, and that it was time to move on from those, so within six months I was making music in a very, very different way. I was making video installations in ‘Travelling Minis’ I was doing surround sound versions of Buddy Holly, you know, I was getting my performance to dance with nude manikins, and basically actually doing some creative stuff rather than just reciting the things that I’ve learned out of magazines like ‘Kerang’. I will never forgive them!

Despite the ups and downs with Sear Tears the first time round, back in 2000 you were to re-join them. How did that come about and how did it compare to playing and recording with them the first time round?

Yeah that’s a good question…..I think we mentioned earlier on about the importance of the kind of personal dynamic in any band and the important personal dynamic in Sear Tears was between me and the singer, Mark, and while I was at university, although I was having a great time, he was not having a great time at all, and when I finished my course I felt really quite guilty and realised that I felt I’d let him down a little bit by leaving him you know, to try and get on with it, and my presumption had been that when I left that things would get better for the band because they wouldn’t have fights and arguments, but what actually happened was that when I left the band they didn’t do anything at all, apart from record one song that I’d written most of the music to. So that was the reason I went back, but I also went back because they had some great music, you know, I dropped in to listen to a rehearsal and they had pretty much two albums of progressive..you know, bass drums and guitar, and Mark said ‘what about coming back and you know, helping us finish this off, it’s a great..’ and a year later we were still in the same room, playing the same tunes with no progress whatsoever, nothing recorded, no gigs, nothing at all, so then I walked away thinking ‘okay, you know, I’ve paid my due here, you know, I haven’t left them, I came back and did everything I could to help them but it just isn’t going anywhere’ so the second time was an unproductive period too; a short answer.

Since you went to uni you’ve now taken the jump from learning to now teaching. It is actually a bit of a jump. How did that happen and how are you meeting that challenge?

I think there’s a period, certainly for me, or maybe there’s not one moment but over a period of time you realise that the mirror is turning round so when you’re younger you are looking to other people to help you and other people spur you on. You know, your parents give you somewhere to live maybe, or somebody lends you some money, or somebody helps you by a guitar, or somebody helps you put a gig on, and at some point you start to realise you know, ‘maybe I’ve had that period and maybe what would help me or would benefit me, rather than this being all about myself and other people helping me to do what I want to do, would be about me putting something into helping other people do what they wanna do, and there’s a day that comes up where somebody that’s younger than you asks you something and you tell them what you think’s the answer to it, and then mysteriously you’re on the other side of the mirror, and I actually really quite liked it, and all the different kind of experiences and all the learning things I’d had, which I hadn’t really thought much about at the time, started to become useful in a different way, and when you get somebody coming to you and saying ‘I’m in a difficult spot’ or ‘I need your help with this’ or ‘that what you told me was really, really useful’ then that gives you…it gives you a different, a completely different feeling than when you’ve stood there as a younger person and said ‘this is my big statement. Listen to me, aren’t I good?’ I think the other thing was you know, I believe, certainly in rock music, that rock music is a young man’s game you know, or a young person’s game. I’d kind of moved on from that and if people want help with that and I can help them with anything, then I’ll try to do that. Sometimes…I mean sometimes as a teacher if you think about it too much you end up thinking ‘who am I to say anything and why should you listen to me?’ which I a good question when you listen to this interview, but I think a lot of the time you think ‘well actually if this experience is any use to you, have it’ you know, it’s not ‘you’ll do your own thing anyway’ – young people especially will and that’s what exciting, watching them do it.

Over the course of your musical career you’ve done gigs, you’ve recorded, you’ve been to uni, you’ve taught. What are you doing now musically and are there any more challenges left for you to do?

I think you know, I mean, if you said that maybe…as a kid I was loving music as a kid and as a teenager I started to play and you know, I’d aspirations to play in bands. In my twenties I was going through a period where I was making original material and maybe moving to look at new styles of material, and then kind of in my early thirties I was starting to teach things and pass on some of this stuff that I’d learnt. I think…what I keep thinking of is a gravestone really, and just what would be on that gravestone and what would be my marker, what would it be that I’d left? One of the really exciting things about moving on from kind of rock and popular music is that you start to think ‘okay, these people in rock and popular music, they always had to make the best things when they were in their early twenties, capturing this youth and energy, but when you move into more experimental work or art works, a lot of the best works are made by older people because they show that experience and insight that you can only gain through experience, so really I think if I make original works again, as a person who’s in their later thirties I want something that shows all that and I want something when I look at that gravestone from on high or you know, not getting into that kind of stuff, but that says ‘this is a good, clear idea that was actually different and interesting. The problem is with there being that much work out there, I keep trying different ones and I never settle on any of them, and I think the other thing is time as well, you know, people talk about anxiety dreams. My anxiety dream is time goes by and you know, I want that big work, whatever it is, but I’m not gonna make little works that are just what everybody’s done before; verse, choruses you know, this instrument, that instrument. It’s just been done and I need something that is something more than that, so that’s hopefully what I’d like to have, maybe.

Right, that’s all I’ve got in the way of questions. Thanks for your time and thanks for a great insight into your musical career.

Well thank you for some good questions. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to give some better answers 

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