Interview with Dale Hodgkinson & Marc Eden of British trash blues n' roll band of The Peckham Cowboys

"Rock n’ roll and the blues, well it’s like a loyal, exclusive club, it will always be with us, as long as there guitars, drums, sax, piano, whatever, kicking around…"

The Peckham Cowboys: The Ancient Howl of Rock n' Roll

Serving up the sort of woozy, sleazy trash-blues you hear all too infrequently these days, The Peckham Cowboys might just be the hypodermic in the vein that British rock’n’roll needs. Formed by Dale Hodgkinson and Marc Eden (Slash/DNA Doll) and including Nigel Mogg (Quireboys), Timo Kaltio (Cherry Bombz/Cheap n Nasty), Duncan Mackay (Primal Scream), and Ryan McCormick (Stacie Collins Band), their second album 10 Tales From The Gin Palace won praised across the rock and blues press and resulted in two nominations - for Best Album and Best Vocalist - at the British Blues Awards 2014.

London blues-rockers released their second album, via Cargo Records, it follows their rough-and-ready 2011 debut Flog It! which drew acclaim from Rolling Stones producer Chris Kimsey. If any of those references sounds a bell for you then you’ll recognise The Peckham Cowboys as rock’n’roll served the way Uncle Keef dreamed it: broken-down stories of bad life choices and wicked women; chickenscratch riffs splashed with grimy dollops of horns. There’s a modern touch too - dubby voodoo rhythms here, a mystic vibes there - which makes it at once lovingly retro, yet still utterly contemporary. And all, as you’d expect, impeccably dressed.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Photos © Beki Cowey/Beki takes pictures & Graham Whitmore, All rights reserved

How do you describe Peckham Cowboys sound and progress? What characterize your music philosophy?

Marc: It’s a South London Rock ‘N’ Roll band, covered, or smothered lyrically, in grime from the streets, and steeped in the city blues. We’re trying to take the blues into the 21st century, TPC are not afraid to use the electronic heartbeat of the city – machines and modern, processed sounds, and mix it up with a 1950’s telecaster, or an old analogue delay. We’re documenting the times, these times of so-called ‘austerity’, and what we see as the government ‘clampdown’ across the West. We want to be right here, right now, writing about the imminent revolution! Although we like to put that message across in a show, we also want you to give it up, and have a good time, you know? Get off yer ass and dance. I guess we’re ‘Fiddling whilst the New Rome burns!’ ha ha ha!

What is the story behind the name of band “Peckham Cowboys”? What characterize your music philosophy?

Dale: The band formed by accident – some might say by mistake – at a party in Peckham, South East London. It began as a fun jam between musician mates and continued in that informal vein for a number of months – basically a few of us would get together and record as an excuse to get loaded and play music. It was only later on that we began to take the venture seriously and to make an album. Marc nick-named the recording “project” The Peckham Cowboys because we were all based in that area and the “Cowboys” bit was a reference to dodgy builders and other suspect “businesses” that operate down the Old Kent Road – which was where we were cooking up our equally dodgy album…

Why did you think that the Blues & Rock music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Marc: Because its real! Kids getting into music, they may follow fashion, and they might like what their pals like, whatever, but if they’re serious about music –and many still are– they eventually will gravitate to the real stuff, from say Jack White back to Robert Johnson, and then they stick with it. Rock n’ roll and the blues, well it’s like a loyal, exclusive club, it will always be with us, as long as there guitars, drums, sax, piano, whatever, kicking around…

Dale: Because the Blues is a fundamental thing – almost a primal energy – and as such is the bedrock of all modern popular music, no matter how much that energy gets twisted or bastardized. It is less of something that one hears and more what you feel. Even the most banal pop fan or dance-music “purist” or even someone who claims not to like music at all (yes they do exist, bizarrely!) will subconsciously start tapping their foot or moving a finger or some other subtle reaction if, for example, they hear a decent blues groove being played next door or something even when they’re not directly aware of it.

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had? Which memory makes you smile?

Marc: I think the two shows which have bookended the bands career so far have stuck in my memory. The first was in a disused pub – literally a squat – this old boozer that had shut down the week before. It was in South London, and all our people were there. They had to buy crates of ale to sell to the fans, and eventually they ran out. The atmosphere was charged and chaotic. We ended up having a fight onstage, kicking over amps etc, because the sound was appalling and the natives were restless, etc. Guy Bailey, the original guitarist, (ex- Quireboys) left the band on the spot! I was screaming: “This is awful, stop it!” down the mic, ha ha! Afterwards, the fans who’d seen it told us they loved it! You could see it in their eyes that we’d given them something special, a ‘performance’, some danger! Jake from The Alabama 3 was there. A3 are a great band – they wrote ‘The Soprano’s’ theme tune, you know? He told us that we were the best RNR band out there, at this moment in time.

Ironically, the next best show was touring with Alabama 3, two years later! This was in Brighton, in front of around 1,000 people. They all knew the songs, and they were singing along. This was a first for me. The first time I’d seen a lot of people who knew our songs! That made me smile. My braces on my trousers came undone, and – Jagger styley- I said: “You don’t want my trousers to fall down, do you?” Girls started screaming! Ha ha ha! It was lovely, so, lovely. No big Rock star trip, just our people, having a good time.

Dale: There’s been so many! The gigs at the larger venues we’ve played on the last tour have been great – if only for that reason. However I do vividly recall a show we did at a club called Nambucca in North London a couple of years ago when the band was locked down into a pulsating, whirling groove at the end of the set... the place was packed and Marc had entered full-on Magician/Shaman mode by this point and was whipping the crowd up even higher with a manic, almost ritualistic evocation of a performance (but still with a knowing cheeky chap nod and a wink)… loads of fans had climbed up on the stage with us and were dancing and spiraling around and shedding their clothes – it was a mad and beautiful thing!

Are there any memories from recording time which you’d like to share with us?

Marc: The new album ’10 Tales from the Gin Palace’ was recorded live in a school hall – thanks to Phil Frite, who also played some bass on it. It was the first time I’d produced an album totally by myself, so it was a real labour of love. It took my 3 weeks of editing and mixing, with very little sleep! It did the whole thing at home, vocals as well, and if you really, really listen in, you can here my cat, ‘Prince Victor’, and also my young daughters, ‘Scarlett & Sacha’ popping in and helping out! Ha ha ha!

About three quarters of the way through, I thought I’d blown it. I hated it, and went crying to my girlfriend Georgia, saying I’d ruined the bloody thing! I’m glad I persisited. ’10 Tales’ has had great reception in the UK, its been voted in the top 20 albums of 2014 at Uber rock, and Pure Rawk magazines, and many well respected journo’s – such as Kris Needs via Classic Rock mag - have given it great reviews, which is really lovely, considering I nearly shelved the whole record at one stage!

Dale: Recording the first album “Flog It!” was a very elongated and painful process for me, during which several personal crises happened to eveyone involved which culminated in a very dark energy surrounding the band which got translated into the aural assault that is that album – the fucked up, distorted painful music on that record is an accurate mirror of the state of everyone’s psyches at the time. I won’t go into details but it was intense….

For me the process of making “10 Tales From The Gin Palace” was easier as I didn’t live and breathe almost every session as I had done with the first album. Marc did however and it nearly sent the poor bastard mad…In a lot of ways it was his record because of the vast amount of work he put in to it to the exclusion of nearly all else in his life. And so towards the end of the “Gin Palace” sessions he was seeing mocking faces in walls and windows and generally suffering from crippling self-doubt even as he was creating this brilliant piece of music…He was also fucking hard work to be around! So, as you can see, making records that you pour your soul into is not necessarily a pleasant process – which is why myself and Eden were so proud and genuinely moved by the ecstatic response and critical acclaim that our music has got – particularly “Gin Palace”… It kinda makes it “all worthwhile”! A vindication…

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?

Marc: I don’t really miss much – maybe seeing Jeff Buckley & Led Zeppelin live! I hope that we can work out a way that musicians of the future can get paid properly for their efforts. I worry for the future of real music if that can’t happen. Music is basically free now. I’d hate to see a world where the music of the future is comprised of game show winners, and kids out of stage school, because that’s where pop music is at the moment.

Dale: I don’t miss anything from the past – over the last 60 years or so there has always been great music and always been swathes of vacuous pop as well – I doubt that will change. Obviously the “big” radical ideas have already been done by now and the future is likely to be an ever-evolving process of re-interpretation…but there again that’s how it’s always been. The music business however is under-going drastic change and unfortunately it is now clear that the little “blip” from say the mid-fifties until about ten years ago where musicians could earn a living and more was simply that – a blip…and now we’re staring down the barrel again of how things were for hundreds of years prior to Elvis’s “That’s Alright” and Johnny Cash’s “Hey Porter” and musicians are returned to being wandering troubadours; admired and feared, penniless and determined…last bastions of beauty in an increasingly cruel world.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Marc: I’d make all the super rich rockstars, like Sting & Rod Stewart, plough some of their huge pay packets back into grass roots music clubs and labels and bands. They should be made to support serious young artists get off the ground, because, as I stated above, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for real artists to be heard. Why not tax the rich rock stars, and make them give a bit back to the industry that has made them millions?

Dale: That musicians get paid properly. Everyone expects them to work for free which is crazy – nobody would dream of insisting that a plumber or brick-layer or a banker or a politician work for free, yet musicians are expected to do so and be grateful as well. Fuck that.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of 60s Brit Blues n’ Roll boom with today’s scene and Peckham Cowboys?

Marc: With us, it’s a London thing, you know? The Stones & The Kinks, and Cream took from American black blues artists, and we took from them. It’s a long lineage of progression, with the blues at it’s heart! With the blues, it’s the truth. It’s not just a ‘trad’ sound, you know? It’s an ancient howl of anguish and revolt. It’s a feeling. It’s an empathy, and it’s always at my shoulder when I’m writing for The Peckham Cowboys – dark & mysterious. It’s a vocal thing with me, whatever I do, my voice has this limiter, and that limiter is the blues. That’s the same as the ‘60’s with those acts I mentioned…

Dale: I don’t really know of any “scene” today – certainly not in the UK – but The Peckham Cowboys are carrying on that legacy from the 60s, and doing it in a new and exciting way which is why the band has generated so much interest. The music and the shows provide joy and escapism for many people who love to participate in something that provides a brief but intense distraction from the grind of their lives – and the fact that Marc’s lyrics are often wry observations and vignettes about life - many people can relate to that. I point to our song “The Debt Collector” and rest my case!

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits?

Marc: Adam Lambert has made me laugh recently, ridiculous - and also Russell Brand trying to start the revolution! Good on him though. The common man is sick of being lied too, as the rich get richer. Enough is enough! I’ve been touched by the fact that I still see young kids growing up getting into real music. I teach a bit of guitar at home, and I see 14 year old kids coming in with their AC/DC records, or John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and that is just so heartwarming! It’s lovely to seed the torch being passed on, it really is…

Dale: When I’m not actively touring or recording with The Cowboys I tend to live quietly with my wife and daughters – and I’m most often delighted by the things that the kids do or say or the antics of our pet cat or some daft larking about that I get up to with my lady, Peela…simple things, simple pleasures and the joy of that…they provide a much-needed counter-point for me to being in the howling maelstrom of life in a rock n roll band, despite how artistically satisfying that maelstrom may be and despite how gratifying it is to have your music appreciated and enjoyed by our wonderful fans. Having said that, the laughter and larks on the tour bus with my band mates is top quality entertainment too – the surreal humour and rapier wit produced by a band getting “cabin fever” on the road has to be experienced to be believed!

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Marc: Meeting & writing with Slash. He told me I was: “One of the greatest RNR singers he’d ever heard”, which gave me a boost, at a time that I really needed it… Best advice? “Keep going. Don’t ever give up, no matter what!” Ariel Bender. Guitarist from Mott the Hoople.

Dale: In terms of the band – meeting Marc; if we’d never met this whole fiasco would never have happened! As far as advice goes, well, sagely counsel might be given by those involved in rock n roll but rock n roll is not a very wise thing to be involved in in the first place – it’s unpredictable and often dangerous. But it is art and if you’re driven to make art then “words of wisdom” are neither here nor there because you’re going to do it anyway! Also, Nigel Mogg our bass player told me that his uncle Phil (from UFO) said to him once: “Nobody ever said this would be easy!” Amen.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Marc: You’re going laugh at this, but Dale will back me up, and I swear it’s true, no BS! I’m a huge Grecophile – I love Greece, and I’ve been coming to the islands, and the mainland since I was a child, I even have ‘Eleftheria’ in ancient Greek tattoo’d on my chest, where my heart is! This is why I was keen to do this interview. I’ve been all over – Samos & Kerkyra are a fave, but it’s all beautiful to me, and of course it’s about the people really. I love being amongst the Greek people in the summer! My dream is to play in the shadow of the Acropolis! Or anywhere will do in the meantime? Do you think you guys can get us some shows? Ha ha! Seriously! So, having said all that, I’d like to travel back to Classical Greece, to Athens, and be amongst the ‘Demos’ for a day. Maybe get involved in a ceremony or two, take some ‘ergot’, drink some sweet Samian wine, meet a nice girl, whatever – ha ha!

Dale: The Cowboys have just got back off the road so a time-travel trip right now sounds a touch exhausting to me…I think I’ll just let the past be, and enjoy the future unfolding at its own pace!

The Peckham Cowboys - Official website

Photos © Beki Cowey/Beki takes pictures & Graham Whitmore, All rights reserved

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