The Cravats – Red Ditchs Full Of Blood.
The Cravats quite literally burst out of Reddich in 1977 - & I should know – because I was standing pretty close to them at the time. So much so, in fact, that I’ve ended up with a small Cravat shaped stain on my heart that has proved somewhat reluctant to fade.
The Cravats debut 45 – ‘Gordon’ – is still the best thing to have ever come out of Redditch (& that includes Kevin Turvey & the A441). They eventually went on to become the Very Things (‘The Bushes Scream While My Daddy Prunes’) in later life & you will have doubtless seen The Shend on your TV screens on many occasions without realising that he once swung a meaner bass than Jean Jaques Burnell.
It had been many years since I had spoken to either Rob Dallaway (gtr & vocals) or The Shend (bass) - so imagine my surprise when they answered an e-mail to their site - www.thecravats.com - & agreed to answer a few questions for tMx.
In typical Cravats fashion, The Shend agreed to answer all the odd numbers, leaving all the even ones for Rob. This possibly tells you more about The Cravats than my mere words could ever do:
trakMARX - What was it about Punk Rock that caught your attention?
Shend - The nice hats, free Germolene and the fact I'd never have to work another day in my life + I could continue not washing my hair.
trakMARX - How did it manifest itself around your locale at the time?
Rob - We got into it pretty early, given where we were, in the sticks of Redditch. I think to start with we were the only manifestation of punk there. We were]so hungry for it after years of mostly rubbish fashion and music. I remember being excited hearing about 'freakers' at Canvey Island, then the start of Punk Rock, The Sex Pistols 'Anarchy in the UK' tour which was cancelled in Birmingham, very disappointing. The moment it all really went off in my head was Dave Lee Travis playing 'New Rose' by The Damned on an early evening Radio 1 show. I was driving and had to pull over and turn the radio up full. It felt like the world had changed. Then he said at the end "That was 'The Damned' and we certainly won't be playing that again". I was so angry and excited. But it felt like something really big was happening, and either you got it or you didn't. It polarised people.
trakMARX - Did the DIY aesthetic appeal?
Shend - If this is some veiled reference to the B&Q incident, then I'll have you know it was only the one ladder and I served my time.
trakMARX - How was that (DIY aesthetic) applied to the birth of The Cravats?
Rob - The very essence of Punk for me was that DIY aesthetic. I hated the way it got codified into a particular sound and a uniform fashion. We were so charged up with the idea that music was ours, and not just the preserve of tossers who could play a million notes a minute. It was a revelation – we could make our own music and express ourselves and invent a way to look. Then there were just all these other voices that previously hadn't been heard, from bands all over the country. Then there was a further revelation - all music was ours! Rockabilly, jazz, folk, everything, and the development of The Cravats was informed by that.
trakMARX - Your debut 45 - "Gordon" - was self financed - how did you raise the readies for that?
Shend: My Lovely Mum lent us £400 to make Gordon and we're still paying her back. She wanted me to be happy and so allowed me to be an anarchist in the conservatory after 6pm.
trakMARX - How many copies did you press?
Rob - I think we pressed 1,000. We sold about 500 pretty quickly then 'Small Wonder' signed us, bought the remainder of the stock and stamped them with a 'Small Wonder' logo. So there are 500 unstamped, 500 stamped as far as I know.
trakMARX - How much do they change hands for these days on the collectors market (can you intuitively sense the questioner owns a copy?)
Shend: Depends. I have seen one in America for £120 but I reckon about £25 is a safe bet on ebay. It also depends whether it has the Small Wonder stamp on the label or not.
trakMARX - You signed to Small Wonder records around 1979. Was independence important to The Cravats?
Rob - Yes, it felt like it was, although we were talking to Virgin at around that time. But we wouldn't have accepted any guidance or interference then, which was arguably our strength, and our weakness. We might have benefited from the resources of a major, but maybe wouldn't have been allowed to be so wayward and experimental.
trakMARX - John Peel was a great supporter of The Cravats. Would our generation have been spiritually poorer without him?
Shend: The man stides the airwaves like a colossus and has done since Elizabethan times. He played Hendrix, Pink Floyd then us and helped us blossom into the Foxglove of fun we are today.
trakMARX - Yehudi Storageheater is a Punk Rock nom de plume up there with Seymour Bybuss from The Shapes. Why do you think the West Midlands was so much better at making up names than the rest of the UK (& what does "The Shend" actually signify?)
Rob - I love that black, surreal humour of the West Midlands, and that just runs through everything we do. I love Yehudi's other names too: Svoor Naan and F Reg. The Shend? The name was originally Chris Shendo, which quickly became The Shend, or The Shed for dyslexic close friends. Shend was also called Omar McClintock at one time, and also Crenshaw, or Crensh, for a while.
trakMARX - "The Cravats In Toytown" must merit a CD re-mastering, re-packaging, re-evaluation of the 'art' type style interface very soon. Any plans?
Shend: Yer what? If you mean are we releasing the bogger? ‘No’ is the answer - although some tracks will feature on the double CD we are currently compiling. Well, Robin is doing all the hard graft while I make the sandwiches.
trakMARX - Where did it all go wrong with Small Wonder?
Rob - Not sure that it went wrong, it kind of fizzled out. I think Small Wonder weren't sure what to do with us. I'm not sure if they entirely understood what we were doing. It seems to me we were changing quite a lot in those later days with Small Wonder and it was just at the time when we were hitting our stride with the late period stuff when we left. Partly our fault, too. I think we needed organizing with tours and promotion and stuff. I think there are a number of wrong turns we took, but none to do with the music, which largely I still love.
trakMARX - The Cravats eventually worked with Penny Rimbuad & The Crass collective. What was the story there?
Shend: A long one! Basically Penny loved the strangeness of the band and even though we weren't exactly a typical Crass outfit, he threw himself into foisting us publicwards. He and his chums are some of the finest folk I've ever met and we love them all dearly. Penny kindly wrote the foreword for the Cravats website.
trakMARX - Talk us through the terminal illness & subsequent death that eventually 'did for' The Cravats?
Shend: What do you mean? We never split up and we never died. Robin was a bit poorly back in '93 but that was due to a dodgy Samosa. We have continued experiments in the laboratory and we are still proud to be faceworkers in the mine of information.
Rob - Had we been smart, or had better advice, we would have toured the 'Colossal Tunes Out' LP, had a rest and then carried on. We were at the top of our game as performers when we recorded that stuff. You might say that's a good time to stop, but I think there was a lot more in the tank.
trakMARX - What happened next to the four main characters in the Cravats script?
Rob - 'Uncle' Dave Bennett joined another Crass Records band, Poison Girls, Svoor Naan became part of Pig Bros, and The Shend and I went on to develop the umbrella arts project The DcL (The Dada-Cravat Laboratory), which in turn spawned The Very Things. Both myself and The Shend are still making music, I have a project called 'Silverlake' underway, and Shend and I may be collaborating on something soon.
trakMARX - What do you make of these 'old' skool groups reforming & wheeling themselves out for one last bite of the apple before impending senility bites?
Shend: I reckon it’s gross if they still attempt to lever their gargantuan gut into a pair of plastic trousers and leap around the stage like rheumatic gargoyles. Luckily I had a gargantuan gut in '77 and we sported decorum and suavity. Should we ever emerge on stage again we will still look as we did because we never leapt but ambled.
trakMARX - Would The Cravats ever consider doing anything so tawdry?
Rob - Interesting that you should ask! We've just been talking about that and for the first time since the demise of the Cravats as a working band, we're thinking about it! I've really got into the Cravats again, having worked on material for a proposed 'best of' double CD, called 'The Land of the Giants', so I think we might be up for it if we could do it justice. Now where did I put that Stylophone?
trakMARX - Looking back on it all now - what was the best & worst of being a Cravat - & would you do it all again?
Shend: Well, we still is one, and the best thing is: I've never worked a day in my life. The worst thing is: those bullbars on the front of 4X4's.
Jean Encoule – tMx 14 – 04/04