It’s an Uphill Climb to the Bottom
Jimmy Edwards interviewed by Stewart Home.
32 years ago I saw Masterswitch supporting Sham 69 and Menace. I wasn’t too impressed by Masterswitch on the night and said as much many years later in my book Cranked Up Really High (Codex 1995). I’d pretty much forgotten about Masterswitch until I opened my email a couple of months ago and there was a message from Jimmy Edwards telling me I was so wrong about his group. He asked me if I knew he was in London’s first skinhead band The Neat Change way back when in the sixties? He also asked if I was aware he was in the film Groupie Girl? And that the Masterswitch demos were about to be issued as a CD album? I didn’t know any of those things. I knew Edwards had gone on to Time UK, but I had no knowledge of his pre-Masterswitch history. That said, I’d seen and loved Derek Ford’s seventies exploitation classic Groupie Girl. I was also familiar with The Neat Change single “I Lied To Auntie May” as a pop-psyche obscurity. However, I was amazed to discover they’d been the world’s first skinhead band! The more I looked at Edward’s past, the more interesting he became.
Listening to the only Masterswitch single “Action Replay” for the first time in 30 years, I could hear the singer was the vocalist from The Neat Change… Since Edwards’ story was clearly one that needed telling, one sunny Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago I caught a train from Waterloo to Egham so that I could interview him. I found him living in a one-bedroom social housing flat very close to Egham station. He told me most of his possessions and memorabilia were stored at his sister’s house since there wasn’t room for them where he was living. He had two TVs and two guitars, a sofa and chairs, a hi fi, a laptop, and told great stories over endless cups of tea. He was a genial host, and his conversation was frequently interrupted by phone calls from friends and visitors ringing his door bell.
3:AM: I want to start with with where you were born and how you got into music.
JE: I was born in Chiswick in 1949. Then we lived in Kensal Rise, where I was brought up until I was 11, then we moved to Ashford in Middlesex.
3:AM: So when did you get into music?
JE: I always liked it, when I was a little kid, when I was about 8, I dunno how I met him, but I knew this bloke who used to do skiffle dressed as a cowboy at kid’s Saturday morning pictures. I ended up as his sidekick attempting to play my dad’s mandolin. I couldn’t really play but we were singing things like “Goodnight Irene”.
3:AM: What was the guy called?
JE: I can’t remember his name, but I used to sit on his knee and do it and get free entry to the pictures. Nowadays they’d never let you do that. In those days he used to pay me two and six, my parents used to make sure everything was alright. But the really important thing for my musical development was hearing “Cathy’s Clown” by the Everly Brothers, which was a big hit in 1960. That got me jumping up and down on the bed when it came on the radio. That’s the song that got me into rock and roll. I hated the popular music I heard before that, “Worker’s Playtime” stuff.
3:AM: So were your mum and dad musicians?
JE: My dad was very good on the mandolin, he wasn’t professional but he did play in the Joe Loss Band once, he did a dep. He could sing like Bing Crosby, he reckoned he was better than Bing. He whistled so it was a bit maudlin, and he wrote poetry.
3:AM: What did he do for a living?
JE: He had a building firm and a road haulage company. Whereas my mum comes from a literary family. My grandmother was Russian originally and she was in Berlin in the twenties. My mother was born about 1912, she’s 97 now and still alive and still smoking. That part of the family was wealthy before the war. My grandmother was a bohemian and she had quite a lot of different boyfriends and husbands, and her father would bail her out financially. We think both she and my Uncle Tom are the illegitimate children of a famous German writer called Klabund. His real name was Alfred Henschke and he started off as this kind of vagabond poet, but he also wrote loads of plays and novels before dying young. Klabund and my grandmother never married but they were lovers, so there is a bit of confusion about lineage down that line of the family. My mother was sent to one of Isadora Duncan’s dance schools, so she never lived at home in Berlin; she never had any kind of home life. She couldn’t even boil an egg when she came and met my dad over here. She was a bit of a war hero. She got out of Germany where she’d worked as a nurse and was training as a doctor, when she got caught passing information to foreign powers about what the Nazis were up to before the war broke out. They put her in prison, so she had her 21st birthday in jail. There is some Jewish blood, but my mother’s family weren’t practicing Jews, she just hated Hitler.
3:AM: Can you tell me a bit more about that?
JE: Some friends of the family were trade unionists, they had a relative in France on the other side of the Rhine. They formed a clandestine group to get news of what was going on in Germany out to the rest of Europe. People in other countries didn’t seem to know what was happening. My mother became a courier for this group. This was in 1932 and my mother had to take sealed envelopes and give them to a young bicyclist she’d meet on the Janowitz Bridge. They had to act like old friends although these were the only times she met this young man. She’d be given sealed envelopes to take back to the group. She never knew what was inside the envelopes she couriered. The third time she did this she was arrested. She was taken to Maobit Prison. She was beaten up while being interrogated and accused of all sorts of ridiculous things — they said she could speak Russian, although she couldn’t, and was a Soviet spy. They wanted to know the names of the people in the organisation but she never gave these away. This was just before Hitler became chancellor, so the old laws were still in place, she’d have probably been murdered by the Nazis if it wasn’t for this.
She spent nine months in solitary confinement before her trial and was told she might rot in prison for spreading false tales about Germany. Eventually she got a two-year sentence for high treason. She was sick and anaemic when she was released, so my grandmother arranged for a swift departure to Oberhofen in Switzerland where she had friends. There, she met a sister who suggested she apply to train as a nurse in England, as the British gave the best training. She applied and got a place at Northampton General Hospital before the war broke out.
3:AM: If your mum was a nurse, was it your dad who got you started playing music?
JE: No, he never encouraged me, he helped my sister with singing. She’s a professional singer. My dad did buy me an eight quid guitar. He flipped a coin to decide whether I could have an overcoat or a guitar. So the coin came up heads and I got the guitar, but he also bought me a coat. But he never sat down and showed me how to play. I mucked about on that first acoustic guitar but I didn’t start properly learning until I was in a band. My first group in the sixties was called The Cult and we used to do Rolling Stones numbers, everyone did then around 1963 and 1964. We’d do “Route 66″ and stuff like that. We played some weddings and parties. I was the singer but I used to watch what the guitarist was doing, and when he put his guitar down I’d pick it up. So I learned by copying him, but I learnt backwards, upside down, cos I’m left handed and he wasn’t.
3:AM: So you weren’t even stringing it up the opposite way like some left-handed players?
JE: No, and I still don’t! That’s why people say I got my own style. Shit!
3:AM: So how long did you go on with The Cult?
JE: Couple of years. Then I became a mod and used go around the clubs. All the mods used to go to Hounslow Bowl cos it was open at night and we used to take amphetamines, all the mods took ‘em, then you’d go window cleaning on Monday after staying up all weekend! But I was younger than all the others and was still at school. There was this guy there who used to play the bass in one of the better known local groups called The Westsiders. He was also backing up a couple of singers called The Truth who had a hit with a cover of The Beatles’ “Girl”. They were two hairdressers called Frank and someone or other. I met this bassist and we started talking and he said: “I wanna form a new group who are gonna be better than The Who and The Small Faces”. He told me he’d heard I could sing and that I looked alright, so he said: “Trust me and I’ll turn you into a great frontman”. So we formed Neat Change. We’d met another bloke at Hounslow Bowl called Brian Sprackling and he was a guitarist, so that was the nucleus of the group.
3:AM: So how did Neat Change move from the mod to the skinhead image?
JE: We just did. It was more Brian and the bassist Steve Smith than me really, I was more of a mod myself. I was an art student at the same time as I met them at The Bowl. I went there with Freddie Mercury actually. The guy from Queen, he was in my class. He used to come to all our rehearsals and the others would always ask when’s your mate gonna go? They didn’t like him always hanging about. I was at Isleworth Poly, it was before he went to Kingston. I had to attend a tribunal to get in to Isleworth because I was too young but they looked at my work and they let me in when I was fifteen instead of sixteen. I had to do a couple of O-levels there but I didn’t learn much there at all because I joined The Neat Change. Within a month we went to rehearse in Cornwall and auditioned for The Marquee, and the next thing we were playing there. It all seemed to happen in two weeks, from obscurity to top of the bill at The Marquee.
3:AM: You were playing a Motown soul set.
JE: Very heavy Motown covers, and we were writing our own songs gradually. We had a big, big following. We had an audience of maybe one thousand two hundred every night when we were there. This was before they brought the fire laws in which reduced the crowd capacity at The Marquee. This is 1966 to 1968 when The Marquee was at 90 Wardour Street.
3:AM: It was still there when I used to go to The Marquee in the late seventies, but I think the capacity then was about 700.
JE: That’s after the fire laws, can you imagine how you couldn’t move when The Neat Change had one thousand two hundred mods and skinheads to see them every Saturday night without fail? Once we blew the place up and got ourselves banned. We set off all these huge fireworks at the end of our set one night and caused havoc. We used pyrotechnics before anybody else, and lights before the Pink Floyd. We did all that first. It’s such a shame there’s nothing on record that really reflects what we were. We always used to open with The Contours’ “First I Look At The Purse”, and the audience would go mad as soon as we played the opening bars of that. We topped the bill at the Marquee 43 times as The Neat Change. We went all over the country and were billed as coming direct from London’s Marquee, which must have been one of the most famous clubs in the world at the time.
3:AM: Why was the Neat Change record “I Lied To Auntie May” a psyche song, instead of what you were doing live?
JE: Our managers were so excited by the possibilities for our future. Everyone wanted to sign us. We met Jimmy Ruffin for breakfast because we were maybe gonna sign to Motown. We did some demos with Ron Richards who was producing The Hollies. But time was moving on and the psychedelic people like Keith West and Tomorrow started appearing, they’d changed their name from The In Crowd to Tomorrow and there was the summer of love vibe. Everyone was saying to us you’ve got to move with it a bit boys, otherwise you’re gonna get left behind, cos everybody’s going along with peace, love and hippiedom. Because we had the same management as The Herd who wrote our single “I Lied To Auntie May” — well, Peter Frampton and Andy Bown from that band wrote it — we were forced to do it. It isn’t really The Neat Change on that 45. Andy Bown’s on it, Peter Frampton’s on it, Chris Squire from Yes is playing tamborine on it, because he used to be in a group called The Syn and we used to knock about together. I sing on it and I think our bassist Steve Smith might be on it. But I know I’m definitely on it, you can hear it’s my voice! Our management were having hit after hit with The Herd, and they said we were doing “I Lied To Auntie May” as our first single, and in those days you did what you were told. We should have stood up to them, and after that they kicked our guitarist Brian out of the group and Peter Banks who was later in Yes joined. He was in The Syn which was the pre-Yes group. Although everyone was scared we’d get left behind, the management only changed our sound on the record: when “I Lied To Auntie May” came out we still looked like skinheads!
We were the first mod-skinhead group. The Who weren’t, their management said: look at your audience, you’ve got to dress like them. They were all greasers originally. The Neat Change were from the audience for The Who, that’s why I say we were the first, because no one told us to dress like skinheads. We were the audience members who got up on stage and played. Bands like The Action and The Creation were more naturally mod than The Who, but we stood out by becoming skinheads. Steve and Brian in our group looked at these American servicemen and what they were wearing, and there weren’t many skinheads at all in the mid-sixties, about 10 in the whole of London and two of them were in The Neat Change. They just looked at what the black American GIs who were going to the jazz clubs were wearing and dressed the same. Sta-Prest, fell boots, Harringtons. The reason they had crops was that when they fought no one could grab their hair. We were the first but other people nicked our style: Slade copied us and became skinheads too, but they never had success until they grew their hair out again.
3:AM: So how long did The Neat Change go on, and why did you break up?
JE: We were going three or four years. We broke up not long after the “Auntie May” single. I got fed up. When the original drummer Bob Chandler went, and we replaced him with a guy called Ian McLean, who was good, for me it wasn’t the same as when I was sixteen. With the change in style and the changes going on in the world, everyone got very confused about where we should go.
3:AM: So when The Neat Change broke up what did you do? Did you finish your art school studies?
JE: No, no, I’d completely left art school, I was just in The Neat Change. Me and Steve the bassist wanted to form a new group but we ended up drifting apart. A bit later I arranged to meet Lynton Guest who’d just left The Love Affair at La Chasse. I’d heard he wanted to meet me to talk about forming a group. La Chasse and The Ship were the two places everyone met for a drink. La Chasse was a little upstairs drinking club at 100 Wardour Street run by Jack Barrie, the under-manger of The Marquee. We hit it off straight away and we formed a group called English Rose in 1968. Lynton came from Leicester in the Midlands, and so did the other guys in the band. I was the only one who’d grown up around London. We were involved in the 1970 film Groupie Girl: we wrote songs for that and appeared in it. English Rose stayed together for four or five years. We were producing other people and putting out records under different names. We were managed by Robert Stigwood. We went to ATV and Pye, and looked after the Dawn label. We were A&R men, artists, producers, writers, for the Dawn and Pye labels.
3:AM: To backtrack a bit, how did you get involved in Groupie Girl?
JE: I had a manager called Ashley Kozak who used to look after Donovan. He became like a father to me. He was a great guy and he was straight which was a miracle. He had big connections with Brian Epstein and The Beatles and was also a double bass player who’d played in a lot of jazz bands. We met him and his wife called Gypsy, they’re both dead now, but if you hear those Donovan songs about Anita and Gypsy, those lyrics are about her. Anyway, Ashley got us Groupie Girl, initially to write a couple of songs for it, not to appear in it. And then the film people said let’s have a look at the group and they picked me out for a screen test. I passed the test and was given the role of Bob and all the group got supporting parts.
3:AM: How did you find working with Derek Ford as a director?
JE: Alright! Do you know him?
3:AM: No, I just know his work — he’s a legendary low-budget British exploitation director.
JE: Is he? Ha ha ha! I thought he was!
3:AM: Ford connects in with Stanley Long…
JE: I worked much more with Stanley than I did with Derek. But Derek was alright.
3:AM: What do you remember about the Groupie Girl producer Stanley Long?
JE: I got on very well with him. But just before the movie was finished, after we’d stopped filming and they were doing the editing, I had this girlfriend and I used to smoke a bit of dope but I didn’t take acid, and everyone was into acid in those days. And this girl put a bit of liquid acid in my drink without telling me. And I think the dropper must have come off when she spiked me. So I drank this drink not knowing it was absolutely full of LSD. I ended up in hospital for three months. I forgot who I was. My manager did the Groupie Girl interviews pretending to be me when I was in the mental home. So when I came out of the hospital, I thought that’s it for me and music and acting, whose gonna employ me now? What am I gonna do? I didn’t make much money out of the film. I think the only person who did was Stanley Long, but that’s another story. But I got along with him and he said: “Look, I’ve just bought a flat at Hyde Park Corner — a penthouse — do you want to learn how to do interior design and decorating? I got the best guy Dermot O’Dee who does all the sets on my movies. Do you wanna work for me for a while as you sort yourself out? I’ll pay you and you’ll learn something and it will be different to music, so it will be good for you.” And it was. I worked every day on his penthouse, I learnt how to do plastering, knocking walls down, hanging silk wallpaper. I learnt all that. Then I thought hang about, he’s doing all this on the money he’s made out of me and various other people.
3:AM: So then what did you do?
JE: A bloke called Barry Blue came along who I’d known for years, his real name is Barry Greenberg. He wasn’t a mate, he was an acquaintance, one of the song writers around Stigwoods. Barry came over to my flat and said I might be able to get you some television work, because I didn’t know what to do. I said that’d be great! Barry came back to me and said you’ve got to come and meet the producer of this thing they’re doing with Shirley MacLaine called Shirley’s World which they showed every Sunday afternoon. I got a part in that as a member of a group. The band was me, Murray Head, Barry Blue and two of the Rubettes and we were called Tank. The story was we’d been this massive group like The Beatles and we’d gone down. So we’d had these magic suits made and Shirley McLaine was our PR and our photographer and she made us big again!
3:AM: Moving on, when you were working with Lynton Guest on music, were any of the songs you wrote big hits for anyone?
JE: “All Alone”: that was a big hit in France — that was Lynton and me working as Guest and Edwards. We were on the Philips label. We wrote and released that and somebody covered it in France and did well with that one. But there was no cohesion in what we were doing. The personal managers would be changed all the time, and the ones below them. We were with Stigwood, but for a while we were dealing with Rik and John Gunnell, they were brothers and they’d owned all the big clubs like The Flamingo and The Bag of Nails, and had managed Chris Farlowe and people like that. One day we go into the office and we’re told Rik’s been shot dead in LA. It wasn’t true, but we didn’t know that. He just wanted out of the management business and quietly ran a bar in Australia for most of the seventies, while the rumour he was dead was spread. He didn’t die until about three years ago, but back in the seventies we thought he’d been shot. We dealt much more with his brother John anyway. But we were sick of them and wanted out. We had a bit of a tug with the Stigwood organisation, bit of a fight. In the end we got out of our contract and went over to ATV and Dawn Records.
3:AM: ATV was a distributor that owned a controlling stake in Pye. Dawn was a Pye subsidiary label, their outlet for more club and underground orientated material between 1970 and 1975, an update on what the main label had previously done via its Piccadilly subsidiary…
3:AM: Who where you meeting around Dawn Records when you were working on A&R for them with Lynton Guest?
JE: Me and Lynton discovered “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas, we signed that. Nobody wanted to sign it, the company said that it might be a club hit but that’s it, how much do they want for it? I told them and they said if you can get it cheaper we’ll have it but we don’t think it’s gonna be a massive hit. The rest is history. We got it cheap from Biddu Appalah who produced it and it was number one all over the world. We got a thank you from the managing director. Robin Blanchflower, the head of A&R, he’d come from Chanel perfume and went on to CBS. He likes to take the credit for that one now. We made up names for groups and did things like The Washington Flyers for the song “Another Saturday Morning”. We did loads of records under various names, most of them are me and Lynton and Seve Holly from Wings. He was our drummer before Paul McCartney took him on. We did Kilburn & The Highroads with Ian Dury, gave them a deal. We brought Barry White to prominence in the UK. Timmy Thomas who didn’t end up on Pye, I think he went with RAK, “Why Can’t We Live Together?”. We found that, a club classic and really wanted it. We found loads of other big records. Then we produced Paul King when he left Mungo Jerry. Linda Kendrick on “Sympathy For The Devil”, we did an orchestrated version of that with the London Bach choir, and it’s really good! We did really outrageous things. We didn’t really do deliberate chart material records, well, we did now and again, but with limited success.
3:AM: Tell me about about the Jackson Edwards Alliance.
JE: Just after we stopped working at Dawn, which was closed down in the mid-seventies. Lynton and I went our separate ways. I knew this girl called Trudi at ATV, she was a press girl and I used to see her sometimes. She said, you know Lee Jackson who was the bassist in The Nice, he’s looking to put another group together and I mentioned you. So I met Lee Jackson and we formed a group called The Jackson Edwards Alliance and signed a deal with United Artists. He was known for prog rock but I’ve never cared for that, and what we were doing was well away from that. I don’t like prog and I don’t like heavy metal. I hate groups like Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath. I dunno why, but I hate them! I did some recording with Lee which I quite liked, it was almost soul. It was away from the prog thing he’d been doing before, but then he wanted to go back to that. He said: “Let’s strip it down, I don’t want sax or brass anymore and I want a three piece with you singing”. I thought here we go, it’s gonna be The Nice all over again and therefore I didn’t want to do it. So I left and Lee Jackson was very pissed off with me.
3:AM: Did this overlap with Flintlock?
JE: While I was doing The Jackson Edwards Alliance, a guy contacted me through a friend and says: “We’ve got a young group from Dagenham with a dad who manages them, and the drummer’s in a kid’s TV serial and they’re on the TV show Magpie tomorrow, have a look at them. They want some guidance and help in the studio, so if you like them maybe you could do that for them. They need help with songwriting, production, everything. They’re only about fourteen years old”. They were genuinely kids, unlike a lot of people in the business who lie about their age!
I went up to Dagenham and met them and they were really good musically for young teenagers. I didn’t much like the dad’s songwriting or the production but I was very impressed with the band. They were on an independent label called Pinnacle, so they weren’t part of Pye or CBS, so they were really an ITV group. They had their own TV show Fanfare and were on loads of kids’ TV programmes — repeat appearances on You Must Be Joking and Pauline’s Quirkes, that type of thing. The drummer Mike Holoway played the Mike Bell character in kids’ TV series The Tomorrow People. I worked with them for the rest of the seventies on and off, writing, producing, singing. After Dawn Records finished, and because I was working with Flintlock, I released a couple of singles on their label Pinnacle under my full name of James Arthur Edwards. The first was called “Pastiche Blue” and came out in 1976. We followed that up with a reggae tune “Oh Melanie”.
3:AM: So how did your new wave band Masterswitch come about?
JE: I’d been living in West Hampstead and I moved to Walton-on-Thames in the mid-seventies. After Jackson Edwards Alliance I wanted to form a new group. but I didn’t feel up to it. My girlfriend said: “Why don’t you go for some auditions for bands that need a new singer, and if you find a good group take ‘em over! Change the name and get them to do your songs, that way you’ll cut out a lot of the aggro of having to form a new group.” Even though I wasn’t very well known I had more of a pedigree than most people floating about, so that’s what I did. That was in the mid-seventies and we did our first demos soon after. I tried out for this group in north London, “Back In The USSR” was the audition song. They looked alright and could play a bit. I didn’t tell them anything about myself. They asked me to join and told me with a different line-up they’d recorded a single but decided to knock that version of the band on the head. I think they might have been called Woodfog, and there may have been some connection with The Soho Jets who’d released a couple of singles on Polydor. They were making out they were like The Beatles or something because they’d had, or almost had, some records out. I said I liked them but it would be good to have a different name. I didn’t tell them anything about myself or my background. Within ten days we were called Masterswitch and I was writing the songs.
The first line-up wasn’t the same as the one the public saw. It was always the same drummer Martin Lee. Ray Simone was the original guitarist and leader of the group until I joined. Steve Wilkes came in late as another guitar player. The bassist was Mark Steed. We were a punk band because I’d started writing punk songs before punk began. I was ready for punk. We played a couple of pubs and then The Roxy, so right from the off with punk we were in the thick of it. We did a lot of rehearsing because we wanted to be good, which wasn’t really the ethic in those days. It was more I can’t play so let’s get up and form a band. Which was great, but I was a bit older than most of them and already could play and had already put records out. I was lucky in that the punk scene sorta embraced me. Mark P from Sniffin’ Glue liked what I did. Savage Pencil the cartoonist and singer with The Art Attacks liked us. We were like the Genesis of punk, our drummer was a really good drummer and the guitarist was a great guitarist. I had to fight the group to play the music I wanted to play. I still didn’t get it how I wanted it. I wanted it even more punky, more thrashy, not so arranged. I had to tell them what to wear, to get their hair cut. They ended up near what I wanted but not perfect.
3:AM: So you were rehearsing Masterswitch and living in Walton and got to meet Sham 69 in 1976.
JE: Yeah, I met Sham in the Walton chip shop in 1976. The were practicing in a cinema and playing at the Walton Hop. These lads started talking to me so I asked: “What do you do?” “We’re in a group,” they said. And I told them I’m in a group too. So they said they we’re called Sham 69 and I told them the name of my band was Masterswitch. They asked if they could come back to my flat for a chat. Dave Parsons was in them by the time I met them, but he wasn’t originally, and they were starting to change towards being a street punk band, I didn’t come along with a magic wand and change them, but I encouraged the change that had already started to take place cos they’d begun with a more pantomime pop thing and they’d been called Jimmy and the Ferrets. In my flat, that first night I met them, we talked about direction and hatched a plan between us. The rest is history. They made “Borstal Breakout”, I helped on “If The Kids Are United”. Dave did a lot of the music, he’s brilliant. I worked with Jimmy lyrically and ideas-wise. But in the end Jimmy got too full of himself, and it all went wrong.
3:AM: So tell me what happened with Masterswitch, you signed to CBS…
JE: For a phenomenal amount of money. But we had to deliver six albums to get all the lucre and we never even made the first one. Don Arden wanted to sign us to Jet Records. He wanted a punk act. I never said we were a punk band but everyone assumed we were because of where we played. But we refused to do the Live At The Vortex album. Masterswitch stood up and said we’re not doing it, we’re not being ripped off, and Savage Pencil did a cartoon about that in Sounds. The whole thing was a rip-off, you could tell by the gangsters involved in it. But then I went to The Vortex one night when there was a CBS convention. We weren’t playing but the CBS top brass were all over from the East Coast of the USA with their big acts, American executives from Epic and CBS. Billy Idol was there, Mark Laff his drummer at the time was there….
I think Adam and the Ants were playing, and I was talking at the bar to this American guy with a stetson. I told him I was in a new wave group. He thought that was interesting and asked me to sing him one of my songs. It was loud so I sang “Action Replay” in his ears. He dipped his hand in his pocket and gave me his card. I thought: this guy’s gotta be joking. He tells me to ring him in the morning on a number which he wrote down with the extension. He said I’ll speak to you tomorrow. Bruce Harris, I think his name was. He told me he was head of CBS on the East Coast of America. So I took the card and the next day I remembered and asked my girlfriend if I should ring him. She said you’ve got nothing to lose, so I rang him. He told me he loved my lyric and thumping beat and he wanted to sign me. That was it, I had a deal. English CBS wasn’t best pleased about it, cos I wasn’t signed by them, I was signed directly to American CBS. So every time we did a showcase, the Americans flew in. English CBS felt slightly pushed aside, which didn’t help us cos we were English and we wanted our record promoted in the UK. So we recorded it with Vic Maile who’d done The Who’s Live At Leeds and loads of other famous British bands and records. “Action Replay” came out in 1978 and John Peel played it. Annie Nightingale played it on her radio show too, but there was no promotion because CBS were arguing among themselves about who should be pushing us since we were in England but we’d been signed by the Americans.
As soon as we got signed I noticed changes in the group. They all became like superstars instantly. We hadn’t even had a fuckin’ record out. They wanted Ampeg amps, they wanted thirty thousand drums… It was only me and the bassist Mark Steed who adhered to the punk ethic of not wanting all that equipment used by stadium acts like The Rolling Stones. And our contract said we could get CBS to buy us gear, but of course we’d have to pay for the equipment down the line once our records were selling. The rest of the group went into the office demanding these amps, these drums, these this, these that! I didn’t know about this, cos they went in on my day off or something. We were being managed at the time by Keith West, the guy that did “Teenage Opera”, he was a friend of mine and our manager. He phoned me up and said your fucking group have run into CBS and demanded this, that and the other. I thought here we go, they think they’re rock stars and our single isn’t even out yet. “Action Replay” had been recorded and everyone was pleased with it, but it hadn’t been pressed. The group got the equipment they wanted too. But CBS complained to Keith about their attitude and the expense, and asked him what the fuck he thought this group was doing. So not only were we not directly signed to British CBS, we were with the Americans, and we were a long way from being their biggest punk act cos they also had The Clash and The Vibrators, but the band were going in and demanding stuff as if we’d already achieved superstar status. So it was obvious we weren’t going to get the best out of British CBS in terms of promoting Masterswitch because we’d put their nose out of joint more than once. So I sacked the band apart from the bass player Mark Steed. That was it, I was finished with them. No more Masterswitch.
Then Keith said CBS want you to put a new Masterswitch together. In the meantime “Action Replay” was released. It didn’t do much, it didn’t get promoted. Everything was all over the place. Keith wasn’t really a manager, it was a favour for me cos we’re mates, he’s a musician. He was fed up and quit, although we worked together musically after that, he’s on Time UK stuff. So I had Mark who understood not to act flash, just keep working and build up the audience, and CBS sent down Terry Chimes who’d been in The Clash to try out with us on drums. They also sent down a young boy who’d been in The Vibrators for a while to try his hand with us, I don’t know his name.
3:AM: Could that have been Gary Tibbs?
JE: I dunno. Anyway, I rehearsed with the new Masterswitch a couple of times but my heart wasn’t in it. I was fed up. Meanwhile I was still working with Sham 69 all the time — that didn’t stop, and I was also working with a punk group called Mean Streets. Anyway, after a couple of rehearsals with the new Masterswitch line-up, I went home and I answered a call from Flintlock asking me to go for a meeting with them. I went to meet them the next day and they said Derek Pascoe the singer was having trouble with his voice. They said: “We’ve got to make an album, then we’ve got to do a tour, we’ve got to change, we’re growing up, we want to look at a different audience, maybe get a more new wave following”. So they asked me if I’d sing and do some tours. I told them I was signed to CBS, but if they could sort that out then I’d do the album and tours. I knew the guys and liked them, but fundamentally I did it to pay the rent. It was a complete change from rock and what I’d been doing.
Flintlock’s management did a deal with CBS but they weren’t allowed to use my picture or name, so I got no credit on the album. Eventually they got permission to use my picture in the press, so we did some Jackie magazine stuff because they still had that teenybopper following. That’s how it became public that I’d joined Flintlock as lead singer, but they had to lie about my age, saying I was nineteen or something. I thought they’d never get away with it but they did! We went to Brighton and made the album Stand Alone and we had a great single called “(Hey You) You’re Like A Magnet”, which I wrote with the group but the manager took the credit on it. Then we were supposed to be going to Japan but I had a big argument about money and credits with Mike Holoway Senior — not the drummer but his dad, who was the manager. So in the end I said I’m not going to Japan, and John Summerton the guitarist had to do the vocals on that tour. That was it with Flintlock for me but at least by that time they’d bought me out of my CBS contract. They carried on for a little while without me but Stand Alone was the last album.
3:AM: So after Flintlock you then did the Jimmy Edwards and The Profile releases…
JE: Tony Gordon who managed Sham started looking after me. I signed with him. Jimmy Pursey had this thing with Warner Brothers where he would find acts and produce them. JP Productions it was called. So Tony said this is an ideal way for you to make your next record, just do it under JP Productions for Dave Dee at Warner Brothers. So Warners gave me a reasonably good deal but I was still under the umbrella of JP Productions, but I had a better deal than all the other JP acts. I sorta had my own deal but Jimmy still produced it. We had a few goes at “Nora’s Diary” with different people, the best version was the Sham 69 version which we did in France at the Honky Chateau. It didn’t do bad when it came out in 1979; wasn’t a big hit but it got radio play.
3:AM: So how many singles did you do as Jimmy Edwards and the Profile?
EJ: Two on Warners. The Profile were whoever was backing me. I did more after at Polydor but for Warners I did “Nora’s Diary” with Sham 69 as The Profile, and then “Twentieth Century Time” with The Pretenders playing the music. Chrissie Hynde said it was alright for her band to do it. She particularly liked a song I did called “Siberian Winds” which has never been released. Both “Twentieth Century Time” and the flip side “Seven Hail Marys” were completely different to “Nora’s Diary”. “Twentieth Century Time” is about working in factories — Metropolis kind of thing. The flip was a nasty swipe at the Pope and Catholicism, thrashing and angry. In the same session we recorded “Public Pisstake” which isn’t really a record at all, although it has become legendary. During a break in the session Jimmy Pursey was saying that Johnny Rotten is taking the kids for a ride, and I’ll show him up… so we started jamming the first Public Image single, I had a guitar on, everyone there played on it. It was about two in the morning and we did it in ten minutes and put it on an acetate. We had some fun and Jimmy was very creative in his own way. He just made up new lyrics on the spot. That got put on a punk compilation Bored Teenagers 3 years later, and is now considered a punk classic.
Of course the record company were telling me to build on my radio success and to come up with something similar to “Nora’s Diary” and then we would have a hit. Mike Read played my records, he stuck his head out for me. He played “Nora’s Diary” every day on Radio One in the morning, and it was about a girl who committed suicide. I know his bosses weren’t keen on him playing it but he stuck his neck out. Paul Weller really liked it, and his mum really liked it, and they reckon the reason Polydor put in a big bid for me while I was on Warner Brothers was because of that record, because everyone liked it.
3:AM: So you went on to Polydor…
JE: Yeah, what happened there is my contract came up with Warners and they were gonna pick it up, so if that had come to pass I’d have done an album and another single for them. Then Polydor came and outbid ‘em. Tony was very clever, he had a contract drawn up which said if they were outbid I could leave. I don’t think Warners believed someone would pay that much money for me, and they couldn’t stay in the bidding. So I went to Polydor for a huge amount of money. I recorded a single for them called “Toys” which came out in 1980.
3:AM: You did a version of the first Jam single “In The City” as well…
JE: That came about as I was doing my album. I was recording at this place called The Farmyard, and for a laugh while I was recording my album I did this acoustic sorta Bob Dylan version of “In The City”. Slowed it up and we recorded it for fun. And the record company loved it and played it to Paul Weller. He liked it too. He let me change the line ‘I hear we now have the right to kill a man’ to ‘I hope we never have the right to kill a man’. But he made it clear I wasn’t getting any publishing for that. Then all the drama started. I thought Polydor would put out what I’d recorded but no, they wanted to bring in Vangelis. They said we’re gonna make it a big production job, and I thought here we go again. I’ve been tomorrow’s big thing for the last twenty years and here we go again. Then they changed their mind about Vangelis and said Godley and Cream. So I cut “In The City” with them, and it’s fuckin’ weird! That came out in 1981, after the original version of my song “Cabaret”, which I did again later as the first Time UK single.
At the time “In The City” came out, Polydor wanted to change my name to Jimmy Vision. They said to me: “You know there’s this comedian been around forever called Jimmy Edwards, we’re not sure that doesn’t confuse people.” I said, look, I was born Jimmy Edwards and I’m gonna stay Jimmy Edwards. Forget about Jimmy Vision. But when you see the picture sleeve for “In The City”, you can see they did the artwork to bring out my eyes because they had this idea of me being Jimmy Vision. But it’s a nice photo; nonetheless. Then everything fucked up. The Jam broke up in 1982. I got a phone call from Ray Simone and Time UK started from that.
3:AM: So your solo album never came out?
3:AM; How much of it was recorded?
JE: All of it.
3:AM: Properly? It wasn’t demos?
JE: No. All the singles come from it. But once The Jam broke up and I got approached to go in with Rick Buckler and Time UK, it all got shelved. My old A&R man Dennis Mundy has got the album and no one is sure who owns it now. So that could quite easily be released within the next year or two. I have spoken to Universal who think they own it. But we’ve got to look at the contracts to sort out the ownership.
3:AM: So can you run us through the history of Time UK?
JE: I got a phone call from Ray Simone who’d been in the original line-up of Masterswitch, but he left ages before we cut the single “Action Replay” and went to India for his own reasons. Somewhere along the line, he had got to know Rick Buckler of The Jam. Although I knew Paul Weller, I had no connection with Rick apart from being on the same label. I knew Bruce Foxton a bit too, I’d played football with him, charity stuff, the new wave against the old wave. We won of course. I was in Flintlock and they counted as new wave. I chatted with Bruce then. Ray rang me and said he was putting a group together with Rick. Then Dennis Mundy my A&R man phoned me and said are you interested in forming a new group with Rick Buckler? I said I’d already had a phone call about it and I was half interested but wanted to know what was happening with Bruce Foxton. Dennis said he didn’t think Bruce would be in Rick’s group and he didn’t know what it would be called. I asked if we’d be on Polydor and he said probably not because of conflicts with what Paul Weller was doing. Initially John Weller, Paul’s dad and manager was friendly, but very quickly we all fell out. So we formed Time UK and rehearsed for a year. The first line up was Rick on drums, Ray Simone on guitar, Martin Gordon from Sparks and Radio Stars on bass, me singing as well as playing a bit of guitar, and Danny Kustow from Tom Robinson Band on guitar too.
We did a couple of gigs with that line-up then had a big argument with Martin Gordon over material. He wanted to do his songs, but that group was doing my songs. His songs weren’t right for the group and they wanted him out. He wasn’t that comfortable doing my songs, but I didn’t want him out of the group. Then Ray and Rick told me at a rehearsal Martin was out of the band. He’s on the first demos we did but none of the proper records. We re-recorded “Cabaret” as our first single and Nick South plays bass on the record. It came out in 1983. But Martin is on the snatches of stuff on “The Radio Show”, which is snippets of our demos. Nick South who replaced Martin had played for Steve Marriott and Yoko Ono, Danny Kustow knew him. He was a great bass player, a great bloke, he didn’t want to write songs, he was quite happy playing my songs.
3:AM: So how many records did you do with Time UK?
JE: We did three singles with Time UK and other tracks that weren’t released at the time. Everything we did in the studio is gathered together on the album One More Time which came out on CD with Detour Records in 2002. We might do a live one too called One More Time Again or One More Time Live. We never concentrated enough on recording cos we were out on the road trying to build up a live following. We had a lot of trouble with producers. I’ll skip the nightmares we had recording. After “The Cabaret” we had a problem with our record company Red Bus. We didn’t like them. We were managed by a guy called Terry Maclellan who’d got us the deal for “The Cabaret”. The record sold well and got in the charts but we got pulled out cos Red Bus had been accused of chart rigging, and there were some investigations going on into that at the time. They pulled a load of records out of the charts at that time, including ours, and not just acts on our label. However, our record was totally straight. If it hadn’t been for the false chart rigging allegations it would have been a top twenty hit. It was top twenty in the commercial charts, but the BBC had another chart and we were pulled from that before we went top twenty.
The BBC chart was the one that counted and “The Cabaret” sold more than enough copies to shoot up it, had we not been wrongly blacklisted. We were fucked basically. Danny Kustow left after “The Cabaret” due to personal problems. We replaced him with Fletcher Christian, a completely unknown kid who auditioned for us. We carried on gigging but it took us a year to negotiate a new record deal. We had to get out of the Red Bus deal. The follow up single was “Playground of Privilege” and it came out on Arista in 1985, well over a year after “The Cabaret”. We’d signed to BMG via Bryan Morrison but there was no impetus by then. We got rid of Terry MacLellan and got a new manager who Radio One DJ Mike Read found for us, a guy called Michael Cohen. He was a showbiz manager, he didn’t specialise in groups, but he got us TV like Saturday Superstore and Old Grey Whistle Test which was great. “Playground” got in the lower regions of the charts. We followed up with the last Time UK single “You Won’t Stop”, which like “Playground” came out in 1985. Radio One said they loved it but they couldn’t play it because of the recent riots in London. There was the Tottenham riot on the Broadwater Farm housing estate in October 1985. A copper was killed, and there’d been a riot in Brixton the week before that. The BBC said the record might incite more violence. So the commercial stations played it, but in the mid-eighties it was nearly impossible to have a UK hit if Radio One wouldn’t play your record. So that fucked us.
3:AM: So what happened after the third single?
JE: Things just fell apart. With Rick and Bruce Foxton we had this band called Sharp which released one single “Entertain Me” on Unicorn Records in 1986. But everyone just lost interest. I decided to go into music therapy with abused kids. I thought this is it, I’m not joining another group. I’m not going to make any more records. Fuck it. I’ve had enough. I’m 38, I don’t want to do it anymore. I thought what can I do? Nothing! I’m not really qualified for anything. There was a little advert in the paper and it said ‘people wanted who get on well with disturbed teenagers’. So I went for the interview in Englefield Green and said I’ve been a musician all my life, and when I told them what I’d done the interviewer said that’s great, the kids might relate to you. They don’t relate to us! So we eventually agreed I’d give it a go part-time. So I went there for a while, and they trained me up as a social worker and I did music therapy. Surrey social services built me a recording studio in the kids’ centre, and I went full time and I ended up doing this for 15 years in Egham. Mainly it was music therapy, but I had to do a bit of court work and stuff as well.
Edwards has now retired from music therapy and is working at making records once again. The Masterswitch demos More Action Replay are out on the Only Fit For the Bin label and you can find the promo video for “On Our Way” — a World Cup single Edwards’ produced for Mike Raynor and the Condors on YouTube. Jimmy tells me more records — both new ones and reissues — are on their way. The Masterswitch single “Action Replay” is available once again as a download only too. And if you want to know about the more private side of Edwards’ life, such as his mid-eighties marriage to former Fatal Microbes singer Honey Bane, then you’ll have to look elsewhere because I didn’t ask him about that. Clearly as far as the Jimmy Edwards story is concerned, there is still more to come.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stewart Home is Britain’s greatest living underground legend.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, July 26th, 2010.