This month we ask Five Questions of Mod legend Anthony Meynell, check in with singer Laurie Beebe Lewis of new band the Original Starfires, and get new Strange Stage Stories from Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra, Nathan Hubbard, and Jonny Tarr.
FIVE QUESTIONS / ANTHONY MEYNELL OF SQUIRE
From their first single, “The Face of Youth Today” (1979), through their most recent “Eight Miles High” (2015), Squire, led by guitarist/vocalist/writer/producer, Anthony Meynell, have turned out a series of gems, songs full of melody, youthful energy, and plenty of hooks. Call it Mod revival, power pop or just great melodic rock, Squire’s music has stood the test of time. Meynell has visited San Diego several times, starting with an Off the Record in-store concert in 1984. He most recently spent time in California circa 2013. Hopefully, a return trip is possible in the not too distant future, but in the meantime, here are five questions for Anthony Meynell.
Who are your musical influences? Who inspired you to play your instrument?
I grew up in a house with a mod big sister who also worked at the Decca records pressing plant in the 1960s. So, my early life was surrounded by test pressings, white labels, mod records, Motown, Beatles, Beach Boys, and Rolling Stones. This really gave me my musical education without realizing it… I just thought they were just toys and my brother and I played being in a band every day. I had a Beatles plastic guitar and my brother had biscuit tins and sticks, which we played along with the records. Eventually, we figured out how to play properly!
Where’s the strangest place you’ve ever heard your music playing?
I always get really nervous when someone starts playing our records when I walk into a room, like I’m supposed to be cool and ignore it or be really grateful and start singing along or something. That said, it happened by complete accident in Soho, London at a contemporary fashion show launch party I was invited to, not a mod one or any connection to the band, music or era, but just a bunch of fashionistas and hipsters. They had no idea who I was or what the record (“It’s a Mod Mod World”) was, but it was on the DJ’s cool playlist of London songs, and when it came on they all made this big fuss when someone pointed me out and said I was singing it. It was all really weird because for a moment it really upstaged the whole event, and I was like some long lost forgotten celebrity that everyone thought they should know but nobody did, but it was on the speakers!
Who is your favorite cartoon character and why?
I’m a huge Hanna Barbera fan and those cartoons taught me everything I knew and recognized when I visited Southern California, but recently I keep going back to Sylvester and Looney Tunes. I think pussycats make the best cartoon characters, especially the scheming kind, and Sylvester is the best if not most hapless antagonist.
What’s your favorite thing about being a musician?
It’s a learning experience. Music evolves and changes so quickly and so you’re always exchanging views, opinions, techniques, and influences with other musicians of all ages and abilities. No one is better or worse than anyone. If they have the passion and music drives them, that’s a level playing field. I’m really lucky that I’m a musicologist and teach recording history at University amongst all the other things I’ve done. Being a musician has opened every door I’ve ever been through.
What’s next for you?
Well, of course we all have new records in the pipeline and gigs we plan to play as soon as we can! Squire played 25 dates last year and had 12 booked and postponed this year. I’m re-releasing all the Squire singles on vinyl again in sequence, starting in October with “My Mind Goes Round in Circles,” and my solo album is due for a re-release soon. There are a ton of unreleased songs desperate for an airing. I recently had a chapter published in an academic book so that’s kicked off a writing sideline.
I have another chapter I’m writing for a book called Musedelica, about taking Sgt. Pepper from studio to stage, and how the psychedelic signifiers created in the studio translate or not in a live setting and what we recognize as psychedelic. And my Ph.D. about the Beatles vs. the Byrds in the studio will also eventually show up as a book, so I’m wearing lots of musical hats, but in the end it’s all me being a fan of the music I was introduced to when I was five years, old bashing away on a Beatles plastic guitar, so it all “Goes Round in Circles” as I’ve said before!
THE ORIGINAL STARFIRES / FLY ME AWAY
The Original Starfires are a San Diego-based, an updated version of the Cleveland, OH Starfires, best known for their 1963 regional hit “Stronger Than Dirt.” This new lineup delivers classic pop rock, with plenty of melody and hooks galore, as evidenced by the EP’s title track, which is also their first single. The band features an original member of the Cleveland group, drummer Howard Blank, as well as front man Eli Holland, best known for his recordings with electronica pioneer and Tangerine Dream founder, Peter Baumann. Early MTV viewers will likely be familiar with his 1983 turntable hit, “Strangers in the Night.” The band also includes latter-day Mamas and Papas / the Buckinghams / Pitch Blende singer Laurie Beebe Lewis, who also recently sang on Gary Puckett’s latest album Love Songs. and singer-songwriter Lori Wilson, as well as keyboardist Yasha Susoeff, lead guitarist Mel Vernon, bassist Matt Simpson and saxophonist Jim Bruno. The San Diego Troubadour spoke to Laurie Beebe Lewis about the show and future plans for these music veterans.
What are you looking forward to the most about this show?
I have to admit I’m a little nervous. It has been nine LONG months since I’ve done a show. This is the longest period in my life without taking the stage. We did a show back in February and since then we only had rehearsal time to look forward to. With masks! But we’ve spent our precious time with each other reinventing, realigning, reconnecting, and remembering. But for the upcoming show? I love the adrenaline, being in front of an audience, and doing what I love to do and was created to do, which is singing. And not only do I get to take the lead on some songs, but I also get to be a part of the vocal support with the background vocals. My vocal “partner in crime,” singer Lori Wilson, and I have put together a lot of backing vocals that did not exist on, for example, the two Outsider songs we’ve recorded, “Time Won’t Let Me” and “Respectable.” It’s also been a blast arranging and working on the choral singing with the Mamas and Papas tunes as well! We’ve even created harmonies for the Peter Bauman song “Strangers in the Night.”
You have so many potential songs you could play from the various groups you’ve been in—how did you choose your set?
It wasn’t easy! I was in The Mamas and Papas as well as the Buckinghams (along with a slew of other artists) so we chose the well-known songs like “California Dreamin’,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” and “Dancing in the Streets.” We plan on adding more hits like “Monday Monday,” “I Saw Her Again Last Night,” and “Twelve Thirty,” but this is a good start. When I was in the Buckinghams, Carl Giamarrese and I did a duet on “Mercy Mercy,” so Eli and I will be recreating that same magic. I also took over former Buckinghams lead singer Dennis Tufano’s version of “I’ll Go Crazy.” It soon became my featured signature song on the 1985 Happy Together Tour with the Buckinghams. It’s always been a showstopper, so that’s a no brainer for this show. Meanwhile, our lead singer Eli Holland has a legacy with the MTV hit “Strangers in the Night,” so that’s in the set. And because of our drummer Howard Blank’s association with the Starfires, who eventually morphed into the Outsiders, we are bringing out the best of the early Starfire’s music with “Stronger Than Dirt,” as well as songs from the Outsiders greatest hits.
What’s it been like working with Pacific Records?
Brian Witkin (CEO) is a pleasure to work with and we are all so excited to be on the roster! He has a lot of fresh ideas and has completely embraced everything we have to offer. Brian is a pioneer, really. I love working with people who have a vision and he has brought so much to the table for us. I think that our unique style and lineup of legacy performers is what attracted him to this group in the first place. I can’t wait for the music industry to open up more so we can regain the momentum we started out with Pacific Records before Covid hit. The best is yet to come!
What’s next for the Original Starfires?
As I said earlier about Brian Witkin, the same can be said for the members of the Original Starfires’ vision. And not just one visionary but many. There is something very special when you are in a band where everyone gels together. We have become a FAMILY and are creating something more than a show. There is a bond there that brings the group together both musically and visually. What’s next can only be envisioned at this time until the world recovers from the pandemic. Another album, a US tour, and looking across the pond to lands beyond the USA when things reopen, and, of course, hitting the venues here in California are just a few of our future prospects! We have a very unique group of people with great legacies in this industry that span from the 1950s to the 1980s. It’s hard to look into the future right now, but we can enjoy the present.
STRANGE STAGE STORIES
What’s the strangest thing that’s happened while you were on stage?
Usually all of the strangest stuff that’s happening on stage is by design. We once did a rock ‘n’ roll seance where we channeled the spirits of rock stars to pull off cover songs we didn’t bother to learn. SPO-20 officiated a wedding of the members of Burning of Rome and then we were the reception band immediately afterward. We smashed a piñata filled with rubber snakes. We made a call to Miss Cleo and the Psychic Network while we were on stage at a car wash. It’s tough to pick a favorite. Maybe the duet of a Neil Diamond cover between the robot and Spencer Moody of the Murder City Devils? That one’s pretty high on the list. Right before the pandemic hit, I was hoping to book a performance on a large ship or at an aquarium for the Lost at Sea album release show. If anyone reading this has connections and wants to help realize that one, let me know. It might be awhile before we are able to actually do it still, but we’re in no hurry.
Nathan Hubbard: Once, in Chicago, I played an outdoor festival with Rafter; the stage had no railing on the back and no drum rug. The drum throne slowly crept backwards as I played, inching closer and closer to dropping me off the back. I spent the set pushing drums up between songs so I didn’t fall off.
Anthony Meynell / Squire: I’ll never forget a really early gig at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town, London with the Purple Hearts in 1979 at the height of the Mod Revival. We had played a storming sweaty set and came back for a well-deserved encore in front of a full house of 1,000 people. I was the first one on stage and I walked forward to the mic to say thank you. Someone stepped on my guitar lead behind me as they crossed the stage and the lead snapped off in the guitar so I could neither play or swop leads or anything. After five minutes of faffing around, we had to wave goodbye without playing a note to a very bemused audience who thought we’d had a huge argument and had stomped off stage! Embarrassing…
Jonny Tarr: The strangest thing that happened to me while I was onstage performing was actually really scary, too. It was many years ago when I was living in a town called Brighton, which is about an hour South of London. I was doing a small solo guitar gig in the corner of a pub near the front window. I was pretty close to the corner of the bar where there was a guy sitting on his own but who appeared very agitated. He was talking to himself and obviously really wound up about something. I was in the middle of some three-chord pub tune when suddenly without warning, he jumped off his stool and ran past right in front of me and launched himself into the glass of the front window. I don’t know how, as he looked like he weighed at least 180 pounds, but the glass held firm. He bounced off it and fell back into the middle of the pub floor. He would have died. Not just because of the glass lacerations, but because outside that window was a six-foot drop onto some old spiked iron railings. It was insane.