an interview by Bones

A section of James Stevenson's own website is entitled "25 Years in the Rock'n'roll Wilderness" not because of his inactivity over that period, but more in honour of the nomadic career he has had over the years (now closer to 40 in truth).

From being in at the birth of punk rock, James has been part of bands that have had global international success and remains playing in several different line ups at present. He was good enough to take time out from touring the USA with Woody Woodmansey's Holy Holy to answers some questions about his time in the musical trenches.

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

How's life treating you at the moment James?
Well some good, some bad - the usual shit.

You're just back off tour with the Alarm, supporting the Stranglers. How did that go?
I think it went well. The Stranglers treated us really well. Apparently they did a tour supporting The Kinks back in the day and they got treated really badly and swore they would never be like that.

Tell me something about your earliest musical influences and how did you get started playing the guitar?
Well my best mate, Noel, at school, bought a guitar and insisted on me getting one too so we could form a band.

Professionally, I think your first band was Chelsea in 1977, who you joined whilst still at school. What are your recollections of those days and life on the road with Gene October?
Well it was dangerous to be in a punk band then – everyone wanted to pick a fight with you if you wore a leather jacket…..the funniest thing was turning up for me English A Level after a gig the night before – I must have looked tired because my dear old English teacher Miss Howard said to me “you haven’t been up all night playing jazz again have you?” LOL.

If I'm correct, you're still playing with the band and will shortly be touring to mark their 40th anniversary. It's difficult to understand now how much of a threat punk was perceived in the late 70's, so I guess you've seen the musical landscape change quite a bit in the intervening years.
Yes, when I can, if I’m doing something else they do gigs as a four piece without me. We just made a new record Saturday Night, Sunday Morning which has had great reviews. Plastic Head have really got behind the band and put out three box set anthologies – basically the entire catalogue, really nice job.

You seemed to swap one iconic front man for another in that your next regular band was Generation X. I know it didn't last that long, but it must have been an education sharing the stage with Billy Idol.
Yeah – I got on really well with Billy. He has a lot of natural charisma.

I know that shortly after the band split you found yourself playing guitar on the incredibly successful single "Kids in America" by Kim Wilde. How did that come about and did you have any reservations about moving away from the punk genre and playing in what was ostensibly a pop band?
To be honest I did, yes. I’m not on the record. The first single of Kim’s I actually played on was Water On Glass. They were making the video for Kids and needed a guitarist for the video. Calvin Hayes, Mickie Most’s son who I knew called me and asked if I wanted to do it – and I needed the money! Then I was basically a professional mimer for a year with Kim. I love Kim, Kim’s brilliant.

You seemed to have a succession of bands afterward such as The Swingers, Hot Club and The Smart. However, I believe you were approached at fairly short notice to join Gene Loves Jezebel on their infamous 1985 tour of the US. Are there any stories you can relate from an experience you later described as "sheer madness".
That will all go in my book – which I will finish some time soon! It was insane. Too many stories to go through them all – but joining a band whose guitarist had just had a nervous breakdown was pretty daunting – just flying to New York and listening to their songs on a walkman! The band became successful very quickly in the US – I don’t think there’s a band on the planet which went so catastrophically disastrously wrong. Now there’s 2 versions of the band. Horrible.

I believe the band later split acrimoniously and in fact, as you say, there are two Gene Loves Jezebels out there at present, of which you still play in one line up. Any comments to make on this situation?
As I said before it’s horrible. I don’t think the twins will ever repair their relationship. We all hate Michael – with good reason.

In the late 1990's Mike Peters asked you to be a part of the reformed Alarm, where you have remained until the present. How did the invitation come about and it must be fantastic playing those classic Alarm numbers live. Hopefully Mike's health is holding up at present.
Yeah, Mike seems to be totally in remission. I’d been playing rhythm guitar in The Cult and I think Mike wanted Billy Duffy to play on his solo tour to support his solo album Rise. But Billy couldn’t do it and recommended me. I’d never met Mike before then. Yeah the old Alarm stuff is great – but don’t forget we’ve had two top thirty singles with the new line-up. I say new – we’ve been together much longer than the original band. I’ve been playing with Mike now for eighteen years!

Currently you can be heard on the soon to be released debut album by punk supergroup The International Swingers. This CD seems to have been a while in the making. Weren't you initially approached in 2012 by the band's founder, Twenty Flight Rocker's vocalist Gary Twinn, just for a tour of Australia ?
Yes. But we had a great time out there – and then original material began to surface – so making an album was inevitable.

Given that the other band members are Glen Matlock of Sex Pistols and Clem Burke of Blondie, the band clearly has a fine pedigree. Indeed one track from the album has already been used in Sylvester Stallone's film "Homefront". For the uninitiated, how would you describe The International Swingers sound?
Essentially we’re a punk rock band with the emphasis on rock.

Are you playing any gigs to promote the release and is the band likely to be a long term venture or one the members dip in and out of when available?
Well we’re all mentally busy with other stuff. I’m on tour in the US with Holy Holy right now. But yeah – we want to keep going. We do have a kind of floating bass player situation though – Glen seems to want to be a singer rather than a bass player these days! LOL.

I know I've missed out a number of other bands you've been part of, as well as the solo/session work you've undertaken. Do you ever feel at times like a guitar for hire?
Yes – and I love it.

Apart from music, I know you have a passion for old motorbikes. How did that come about and have you been able to amass a collection over the years?
I like all old stuff – guitars too. There’s pics on my website www.jamesstevenson.info I think I’m a hoarder by nature so I hate getting rid of things. I’ve got four bikes – so not an enormous collection at all. My most recent bike is a 2005 Triumph Thruxton. I was very particular about the colour and spec and finally found the model I wanted in Swindon. At the dealers the guy asked how many bikes I had now. I said this is number four. He said that’s a good number I have four too. I’d been feeling a bit guilty buying another – but he made me feel vindicated.

Cheers James for taking the time to do this and, before I finish, is there anything else you'd like to get off your chest?
No thanks mate – all good

Many thanks to James for taking time out to do this and Chris Hewlett for arranging it.


wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?