Along with Phil Lewis and Phil Collen, Gerry Laffy’s first taste of fame came in the late 1970s as one-fifth of the glam rock group Girl. Having disbanded after only two albums, Collen went on to join Def Leppard, who were set for world domination with their breakthrough album Pyromania, while Lewis would eventually front L.A. Guns with former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Tracii Guns.
Following a short period with ex-Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock in London Cowboys, Laffy contributed to early demo sessions for the Duran Duran album Notorious, and through his association with the band he was introduced to music video director Russell Mulcahy. A prolific partnership formed between Laffy and Mulcahy, resulting in an Australian-based company called Le Bad, with Laffy assisting Mulcahy during the director’s most productive period, in which he progressed from music videos to feature films with the cult classics Razorback and Highlander.
Despite being fired from Rambo III early in the shoot by star and co-writer Sylvester Stallone, Mulcahy continued to shoot promo videos for such artists as the Rolling Stones, Elton John and Ultravox. Laffy would also work with the latter as a musician, playing guitar on their 1993 album Revelation. Another creative partnership that would evolve from his friendship with Duran Duran was through his work with bassist John Taylor, resulting in such overlooked offerings as Feelings Are Good and Other Lies, Meltdown and The Japan Album.
Alongside his numerous collaborations, Laffy formed the group Sheer Greed (named after Girl‘s debut album) with brother and fellow Girl graduate Simon Laffy. In 2001, eleven years after his first solo release, Gerry Laffy produced his sophomore effort, All Day Long, while a third, The Icebox Studio Sessions, followed six years later. Laffy’s latest solo album, Just a Little Blurred, was released in April 2013 on his own independent label, Die Laughing Records, and features original material written and performed by Laffy.
Gerry Laffy discusses the recording of his new album and his memories of performing with Girl over thirty years ago.
How does Just a Little Blurred differ to your previous solo work, both in terms of style and your method of writing and recording?
I haven’t written or recorded anything since 2007 (The Icebox Studio Session). Those fourteen recordings were done at a mate’s house on an ADAT machine; just me writing, producing performances. A bit late in the day I know, but it was my first realisation that you could make decent home recordings, sans studio, VERY low cost. This time I had a 16-track digital studio, in my own house. A beatbox for tempo and a Yamaha drum machine to play over it. My playing or writing style hasn’t changed much over three decades; I never practice or jam, I just pick up a guitar and what comes out comes out. In the past year I had three songs written, the rest came out when I sat down at the machine, one at a time. Pop-pop-pop, out they came. In two weeks I had eleven songs. Without any effort really, just pleasure.
Did you always intend to record the album by yourself or did you consider employing session musicians?
Well, a day after I bought this machine, a Girl fan and FB online mate, Craig Bundy, was coming to London, he asked to meet me (first time since Girl gig days). I agreed, I said over to my pad. He duly arrived, fine Rioja in hand. As he’s a bassist I thought it would be a laugh to record a Girl song together. So we did My Number, being a track he would know. It took honestly about an hour; later that evening I put on a vocal. Then next day I thought, that was fun. I’m gonna carry on, alone. I’d always wanted to try and play drums on an album one day. And I had a couple of ideas. I’d start with that premise.
Having started out as part of a band and recorded two albums in a studio, do you feel that, while recording by yourself allows you complete artistic freedom, it also lacks the excitement that comes with collaborating?
In Girl, as in all my other music projects, I was in a band situation; we all chip music, thoughts, ideas, some demands into the consensus pot. Doing a solo album you dictate more, but players still do it their way. So they should. This is my twenty-ninth album or EP release; apart from a few live ones ALL were done as a democracy, so this was very freeing. On Icebox, I played and wrote it all but there was still Glenn Gillard (who owns The Icebox Studio) as engineer/tape op/drum programmer. Someone else in the room.
I really enjoyed doing this album alone, totally comfortably, in a studio right across the hall from my bed. When I got tired I went and rested up a while, it was great. Anyhow, I’m pretty pleased with the results. It was kind of an impromptu experiment that worked, for me at least. Right now I don’t feel the need or want to collaborate, I’ve had several musos get ‘in touch’, since this went out, mostly guitarists, of course. Like I need a singer/guitarist. For now my only interest would be a great drummer/programmer who’s looking for a writer/singer/guitarist, and who lives in London. Not much to ask… anyhow, for now I’m cool. I like no agenda.
Do you have a particular writing method that you favour; such as starting with lyrics or a melody on a piano or acoustic guitar? How do your songs develop from that initial idea to what you eventually record?
It tends to be me sitting down with a guitar. Sometimes keyboards (like with the song Liar). I will noodle around till I find a second part to join it with, maybe a third (mid 8), but not always. Then I will hum, or sing a melody that comes into my head, roughly work out the melody on guitar, then I usually go into a quiet space and write lyrics VERY fast. Ten minutes, roughly. I have NEVER laboured over a lyric, OR playing even. I like it to just come out, unworked, un-laboured. Once I have written a song, it’s rare that I rework it. I don’t use computers in my music, so I DO NOT use flying, editing parts, samples. I PLAY everything, SING everything on this.
On the GL & Simon Laffy album Lying With Angels, we had a great sampler, did excellent B/Vs, but it all sounded the same, so I’ve never done that again. I like to hear fallibility, the musicians minor imperfections, I love all that. Def Lepperd-type perfectionism totally isn’t me. Something I found out many years ago; the track you love everyone goes ‘heh’, then picks what the artist thinks is weak. So I don’t edit myself now. I am just selfish in my decision and with the track order, cover, etc. But know then that it belongs to someone else once the songs go public. Only they decide what’s good or not good for them.
You cover My Number, the most well known song you recorded with Girl, on your new album. Why did you decide to revisit your earlier material and why this song in particular?
I always loved this song, of course. I was nineteen, I had written a released song, Tommy Vance played it on the Friday Rock Show. People were calling me, our band was starting to ‘happen.’ Soon our album was coming out. It was all very exciting to us. Unknown really to us then, it REALLY affected some people; Girl, Sheer Greed, Hollywood Tease, My Number, ALL that. There’s a magic time when a teen discovers their first ‘really cool’ band. They’ll love you forever. For me, it was Bowie/Ronson.
One of said impressionable Girl fan teenagers was Craig Bundy. Thirty-three years later, he’d become a good, trusted Facebook mate; he set up Sheer Greed, the Girl FB page, we chatted and interacted regularly. He is a bassist, he was coming to my home with his adorable daughter, Amanda, what nicer way to welcome him to invite to record a Girl classic. He was more than a little open-mouthed as I stuck John Taylor’s bass in his hands and said ‘B, G, D, B’. He did it great, did it straight off, we had the backing tracks done in about one hour flat. He then took his daughter to see the Queen’s horses and I finished off. It was a great laugh. I have this loathing for the Vatican an all its scandals; somehow I fused My Number and the clergy for the opening. NO point in trying to redo it the same.
Covering a Girl song that was originally sung by Phil Lewis, has his particular style of singing influenced your own in any way?
No, I love Philips voice; frankly especially in those days. He’s a way better singer now, of course, but then, his balls to the wall, mixed with naivety was SO endearing. He’d act all hard, but there was a beautiful frailty about Philip in those days. He sees it as flawed, I see it as charming and also just how fucking good he is these days. Maybe the rest of us too. I just decided to do a low voice as the central track, and mids either side and just crank up the lead guitar. Listen, it was done for a laugh, and for a bit of a treat for a Girl fan. If anyone gets all, ‘Why did they to redo/fuck-up a classic?,’ they can suck my dick. I wrote it, I can fuck it up if I like. Its not like Ozzy doing Mr Crowley as a samba, or a thrash metal version of Unbreak My Heart. If anyone does get upset, seek therapy.
What is your most treasured instrument and do you favour a particular brand when it comes to guitars and recording equipment?
No, not really. I haven’t kept a single guitar from the Girl days. I’ve probably owned fifty or so in my time. The guitar I had had the longest is an acoustic I bought in 1988. I have one Les Paul with a nice flame top, I really like that. I have a Brian May guitar and a Fernandes Sustainer. They are the four guitars I used on this album. Also, an M1 keyboard, a John Taylor Aria Bass and my brother Simon’s 5-string Fernandes bass. That I used on virtually every track. Love that bass. Currently I have a dozen guitars, but just yesterday I listed five on eBay/Gumtree, because I have decided I want a chrome resonator guitar. I had only rejigged my collection last year, buying five new guitars, selling a few. But these five seem like they won’t get used much now, so bye-bye. I’m VERY unsentimental about guitars, but back in my angrier early twenties I smashed many a guitar. Sad waste in hindsight.
One time, I sliced right through a guitar’s headstock with a Japanese razor-sharp Katana. It stayed like that for days. Looked pretty cool though (laughing). On the last Girl Far East Tour 1982, I started each show smashing a guitar… a rock star fantasy if ever there was, so that’s about eight right there that died. All copies though, I’m not a fool. I’d say twelve-fifteen died in all. My bad? In my defense I have owned and parted with some are and stunning guitars that I did keep in good condition (then sold at a profit); a mint ’52 Gold Top, Pete Townsend’s 54 Gold Top, he gave to Speedy King on the Something in the Air session, a ’60s Sitar, a ’60s Dobro, a 12-string Strat, etc…I used to endorse Gibson 1960 Classics, so at one point I had a rainbow of them; gold top, yellow, pink, purple, black. I also endorsed Fernandes, Ibanez and the very crappy Yamahas.
Do you feel that your vocals are as passionate when recording alone in a studio as they are when you are out in front of an audience, and do you often record a lot of different takes before you find one that you are satisfied with?
When I do a vocal, it’s dark, candle light; I stand up to fill my lungs, headphones on, spliff close by, I try to be as passionate and in the moment as I can be with a lead vocal. I find myself doing (not quite Joe Cocker) hand movements. I really try to impart a feeling. I have an M.O. with recording; I nearly always use the first best take, the first one I say, ‘That’s OK, that’s pretty cool.’ THAT is the take that stays. Vocals AND guitar takes are first takes where possible. Certainly on Iceboc and JALB. Usually the best are in the first few goes, or move on is what I say. On JALB, because I was engineer here too, I prefer to go in to record and just perform the song top to bottom; only if there’s an obvious mistake will I do it again. Unless something really good is already bagged I would probably go over that track, just do the whole thing again.
Secretly: I do have a little fantasy. That I can afford to employ Chris Tsangarides, at his sea-view studio, for a few leisurely months. Take the best of these songs, write a few more and make the BEST damn record of my career, nail the BEST performed material I have ever written. Next album is gonna be album number thirty. I’d LOVE it to be produced by Chris, to just let me be a singer, guitarist, writer. Under qualified guidance. I’d love it. Come on Lotto numbers, pop up will ya.
Originally starting out as a guitarist, do you see yourself as this first and a vocalist second, or are they both as important to you?
I think I only started to become a singer on the Icebox Studio Sessions album in 2007. I think my first solo album I was definitely a guitarist trying to sing. All Day Long, a bit better. Icebox, I developed some more belief I could carry a song vocally. Now I feel and I think I sound much more confident as a singer. I guess I will always feel like a guitarist that writes and sings. I think it’s so much easier to impart your message (if you have one) as a singer; obviously, you can spell or spit it out. I will never be a virtuoso like Jeff Beck, Satriani, Vai, etc. I’m just not that emotive on guitar, so I guess for me I’m happy being a decent singer who writes good tunes and plays interesting guitar. I like it when people compare me with Stevie Ray Vaughn, Beck, Ronson. I’m honoured. I’m no technician but I hope I have a feel and sound that people like?
There are hints of various different genres throughout Just a Little Blurred, including prog rock, blues, country and even a little reggae. Do you find that if you spend a few days listening to a specific artist, the next song you write is influenced by that particular style?
Rock evidently, I’d call this a rock album. Blues slips in frequently, especially in my lead guitar playing. For some bizarre reason I do occasionally dip into Hee-Ho country style swing. Like on Waiting, on this JALB album… when I wrote that song it was a melodic ditty on acoustic, but somehow got hijacked by some unseen redneck band. I felt it happen and just let it. Some songs decide themselves how they wanna come out. On this album I did record one song twice, two different lyrics. First version was an intimate love song, the subject asked to remain anonymous so, as I had already mixed it down, I redid it very quickly; sorry, I kind of threw this song away. Version one is lovely, ten times better, but it will never be played outside of my home. As for reggae, I doubt you heard reggae, Girl had a brief unsuccessful (in my view) flirtation with it. Mainly because Phil Collen was into The Police back then. HE was the person who brought Passing Clouds, for example, to the Girl table (despite Mr. Lewis claiming the credit for that one).
For the record, other credits on that album SHOULD read; Laffy/Lewis, Heartbreak America; Strawberries, S Laffy/Lewis. Just so happened the day the label needed writer details Philip turned up. He probably tried to claim Do You Love Me too. I recall this created a lot of friction at the time. But now the record is straight. As for my influences; no, I don’t listen then get stuck in that groove, no, not really. I guess I’m already stuck in 1970-1980 heavy rock/blues influence vibe; Kossoff, Queen, Ronno, Beck, Led Zep, Bolan, Yes, my jazz/rock era, Di Meola, Holdsworth, then Satriani, Lukather, etc. Like most guitarists, I have set pieces that I play when they pick up a guitar…some have two, some 22,000, I have probably half a dozen or so constant influences in my playing; Jeff Beck, Mick Ronson, Jimmy Page, Van Halen, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Ben E. King. If I’m gonna record a blues track, to listen to, say, Gary Moore, might be a good inspirational idea, eh. But it’s not so contrived in reality. Might be Aerosmith, or Joni Mitchell.
Alongside the new album, you are issuing a previously unavailable live bootleg of Girl from 1982. What prompted this decision and how much unheard Girl material do you have in your collection?
There’s been a LOT of issues around Girl material, live or studio. Somehow, the demand always comes to me. The demand is always greater than the supply. That said, this CD was given to me by a cool musician and friend of Girl from ’80 onwards, Tony Voller, he recorded it himself. Tony sent me this as a gift, I really enjoyed it as it was from the crowd perspective, he agreed I could give it away with my solo album.
Previously, I had released Live in Osaka and Live at The Marquee via labels. They had both been cassettes from the mixing desk, I put on NO audience. They were released in Japan only. As was Killing Time, the third Girl album. There was a £125 bootleg knocking around Japan, Rainbow Tease, a fan loaned it to me, I put out limited runs of this RT (which had a track from Marquee where Ritchie Blackmore got up on stage with Girl). I sold this b/w a live radio show at the Paris Theater and paired up my solo albums, a tenner each pair but there was little demand.
I bootlegged the bootleggers but people didn’t want two pristine masters for £10, they want the original crap sleeve and hand cassette sound. People WANT to pay crazy prices for the crap originals. That’s up to them. As for me, I have no more Girl material at all. I’m all Girl’d out. No more merch, nuttin. ‘This is it’ (as Michael Jackson said), so hand me my Propofol. I pressed up fifty, they went fast, I did another hundred, there’s not many left now, as they are a very welcome freebie with what I think is my best album to date.
Girl’s back catalog has yet to receive a worthy treatment from a record label. Has there ever been any mention of the two studio albums being remastered and re-issued?
Talk is cheap. I’ve heard all sorts of promises over the years; Rock Candy were going to re release the first two albums, nothing happened, Steve Hammonds at Sanctuary released a really cool thirty-five-track Anthology – My Number; it had good packaging, cool shots, our old mate Dave Ling did great liner notes etc., twin CD set, but it came out on such a limited run that it’s now unavailable and (as you say) selling for crazy prices. I don’t own the Girl material, but I do own the logo and Sanctuary gave me the OK to release the videos, as they can’t prove they own them anyhow. Steve’s a good guy, I wish he’d do something on this. The studio catalogue they DO own, yet they just sit on it. I really don’t know why. If I owned it and sold then online I would cover my mortgage monthly. COME ON Sanctuary, re-release the Girl Anthology – My Number.
Are you still involved in any way with the film industry and have you ever considered or been approached about composing a score for a movie?
I managed Russell Mulcahy from 1981 to 1997. In 1994-95 I went back to live in Hollywood, my last big hurrah there I’d decided. My company LaffyMichaelsFilmworks put $22 million financing together for a movie Vampire$, but after over a year we got fucked over and Russell bumped and John Carpenter and wife did it. I left LA $500,000 poorer than had it happened, so I left and stayed away from the film business ever since I stopped managing Russell in 1997. I don’t miss it at all. Hollywood’s a cesspit of vipers (except for a few dear friends). I have never been asked to do music for a film, but I’d love to. I had a song Shoot Em Down, from my debut solo album, appear on Highlander 2, but only because they needed a free filler track and the director’s manager owned his own record label. In true film biz tradition, after doing them that favour they bumped my for the US release because they got a buy on. Cunts. Typical.
Now that Just a Little Blurred has been recorded and released, what are your plans in how you intend to promote it?
Pretty low key. I’m it with this project: I’m the the artist/manager/label/PR dept. Yes I am a musician, I’m also a jobbing commissioned painter/artist and that’s what I’m currently doing this week, a commission. My permanent day job is a special needs support worker at a sixth form college. I’ve been doing this kind of work for about eight years now, my fourth year at the college. However, I have been off ill most of this academic year (thus this album). I really like it and miss it. Will return for the last half term before summer break.
This CD has gone out to twenty press locations for review or editorial. I have no intentions of gigging it but I have made little vignettes or stock footage film/montages of six of the eleven songs on this album, so you don’t have to buy it to enjoy it in top quality. They are on YouTube right now, also Hollywood Tease and Naught Boy from the Girl Live at the Greyhound CD that comes free. I don’t see any point trying mainstream like MTV or radio, they wouldn’t give a toss, a wasted stamp. So I just sent it to the rockers outlets I though might have some remote interest.
To date the feedback has been really positive and supportive, both from fans who bought it and muso mates who have thumbs up or offered to assist in future. AS for press; if they like it, great; if they hate it, it usually gets otherwise-disinterested parties taking your side. All press is good press, they say. I don’t agree. Anyhow, it’s all cool. I am always happy to chat candidly in interviews, there’s many a tale from my life as yet untold. I appreciate all the support and would be happy if more rather than less get a chance to hear where my musical head is in 2013. Ladies and Gentlemen: it is ‘Just a Little Blurred.’ Enjoy. Peace.