Kicking-off our soon to be revamped fns is an interview with a good friend of ours and book compiling maestro Roland Link, read on to find out more. There’s also a competition to win a copy of the book at the bottom of this page.
How’s life Roland? Last time we spoke you’d just released your first and rather excellent book on Still Little Fingers.
Life is excellent thank you. Yes it was 2009 when ‘Kicking Up A Racket’ was published. Time’s flown. I can’t believe it’s been 6 years. (you can read our original interview with Roland here) I followed ‘Kicking ….’ with a memorabilia book, also about Stiff Little Fingers from the same time period. That came about primarily because during the research for ‘Kicking ….’ I came across a lot of unpublished photographs of the band, tour posters, badges, tickets, flyers etc and thought it’d be rude not to share some of them with other SLF fans. That book’s called ‘What You See Is What You Get’ and was published in 2014.
And now you’ve done the business with another of the iconic bands from my youth, The Ruts?
Again it all stemmed from a love of the music. As one guy who bought it informed me, I’ve plugged another gap!
It certainly looks like a lot of work compiling that one, something like eighty interviews?
Yes it was a huge amount of work tracking down people associated with the band. The two surviving members (bassist Segs and drummer Dave Ruffy) were able to help in some cases, but there were still lots of folks it was hard to find.
Without giving too much away, what surprised you most when researching The Ruts?
The sheer amount of threats, violence and trouble perpetrated by thugs associated with the National Front and other far right groups at the group’s shows. The band always vehemently opposed racism and would confront the perpetrators of the trouble and endeavour to carry on playing. I have so much admiration for their proactive stance in the face of such hostility.
The interview list reads like a who’s who, were most people happy to help when approached?
As always, some people were very happy to speak, others are more reticent. It certainly helped this time round that I was already a published author. The first time I met up with Segs and Ruffy to discuss the idea of writing the book Segs said, ‘We know you’ll finish it and make a good job of it, because we’ve already checked you out.’ I later found out they’d invested a lot of time in speaking with someone who’d planned to write a book about The Ruts and nothing had materialised. So the great reviews ‘Kicking Up A Racket’ received stood me in good stead with Segs and Ruffy and later a number of other people. I spoke with almost everybody I set out to interview.
The loss of Foxy and Malcolm are well documented. Did you find that difficult to put onto paper, to convey the emotions of the people that mattered at the time?
Yes very much so. I was extremely aware that their voices and characters needed to be represented throughout the book and endeavoured to make sure they were. I felt the best way to do this was to speak to a number of people close to the band, personal friends and family members. I hope very much I’ve done them justice.
Ruffy and Segs really are top guys aren’t they?
Yes they certainly are. In a profession where you come across all kinds of dodgy characters, schemers and overblown egos they’re shining examples of genuinely down to earth, fantastic people. I’ve found them to have integrity, principles and honour. They’re also hilarious, have wonderful senses of humour and are completely self effacing.
And the addition of Leigh really is a perfect fit for modern day Ruts DC?
Leigh’s is the perfect man for the job, an amazing guitarist, with a real passion for all kinds of music. He was a genuine Ruts and Ruts DC fan, who followed both bands back in the day, and he also later became close friends with Paul Fox (Paul also produced a single by his, then, band The Price). Leigh also owns Paul’s ‘Foxy’ Fender Stratocaster. Paul had received that particular instrument from his parents for his 21st birthday and had later had it customised with ‘Foxy’ and flower motifs. When Ruffy found that Leigh had bought it from a second hand shop years later, he declared his recruitment to Ruts DC was meant to be!
Maybe it’s just me, but when a band loses its original singer it usually loses most of the impact that the original line-up had, but I think Segs has made the transition to singer in Ruts DC and it’s worked really well?
Not many bands recover from losing their original singers do they? AC/DC are one of the few who spring to mind as having achieved it. Technically the Ruts had split when Malcolm died, but I feel that if he’d managed to conquer his heroin addiction the band would have quickly re-united.
Although from a professional viewpoint Foxy wanted to recruit another singer and carry on as the Ruts, I believe Segs and Ruffy’s point blank refusal to entertain the idea of trying to replace such a hugely charismatic and iconic front man was totally the correct decision.
With the benefit hindsight (although Segs was also very aware of it at the time) where they came unstuck was kowtowing to Virgin Record’s demand that they have some sort of continuity with the Ruts or the label would drop them.
At the time Ruts DC never really got out from under the spectre of the Ruts and were never given a fair chance to develop as a band in their own right, which is a shame because they had a lot to offer. They should also perhaps have done what the surviving members of Joy Division did when Ian Curtis died, i.e. change the band name completely and refuse to play any of their old material for a period of time to help establish the new band.
What I’m very happy about is that now the Ruts DC moniker works for Segs and Ruffy. They couldn’t really go out and play as the Ruts – and I know they’d never want to without Malcolm and Paul – but because Segs was Ruts DC’s lead singer they can perform as that band with credibility, and also celebrate their Ruts legacy at the same time. It’s great that they’re finally getting to appreciate how much their music is admired and loved.
Any stories that you can tell our readers that didn’t quite make the finished book?
There is one particular story that both Segs and I were very keen should have been included in the book, but we were advised that for legal reasons it must not be. The episode was hugely inventive and very funny. Unfortunately I can’t say anymore!
To someone who doesn’t know them at all, how would you describe ‘The Ruts’?
The Ruts were a traditional four piece band – guitar, bass, drums and vocals – that came out of the heady spirit of punk rock ‘n’ roll. They were very much like the Clash in the way that although punk introduced them to a wide audience they refused to be musically constrained by the genre. I think that is where their real strength lay, plus the fact that they had the musical chops to carry it off.
In Paul Fox they had one of Britain’s greatest guitarists bar none, in Malcolm Owen they had a hugely charismatic singer and perceptive lyricist and in Segs and Ruffy a devastatingly exciting and accomplished rhythm section.
Their one and only studio album, The Crack, contains roots reggae, punk rock, hard rock, flourishes of jazz and hardcore. As the Damned’s Captain Sensible has often stated, ‘If kids today ask me for advice about playing music, I say, “Go and listen to the Ruts.”‘
For what it’s worth I just love your passion for your books, it certainly seems like a colossal labour of love?
Thank you. That’s exactly what they are – labours of love. The way I approached both ‘Kicking Up A Racket’ and ‘Love In Vain’ was to do a huge amount of research before I started to track down people to interview. Once I had my basic ‘Timeline’ in place – an in-depth outline of the band’s history – I spoke with people to get the human element; the all important stories and opinions which, I believe, are the essence of these kinds of books.
And, randomly perhaps, the book itself is excellent quality? (re the binding etc)
Yes I think it came out very well. The first time I saw the finished product was at the pledge campaign event at The Islington in North London. When I arrived I popped backstage to see Segs and Ruffy and Segs presented me with a copy to peruse. To be honest, I’d been unsure of the merits of dropping photographs throughout the book on the same paper as the text was printed on and had pushed fairly hard for two sections on high quality paper. As it turned out we used both approaches and I think they’ve both come out great. I also love the front cover!
What’s next for Roland, and other bands or artists you’d like to cover?
I’m not sure if I’m going to get back on the rollercoaster that is researching/writing and ensuring a book gets published. If I do I have a band in mind.
Today’s music, generally, what fills your ears with joy?
Where ‘big’ bands are concerned I tend to go backwards to find my musical gems.
Locally my favourite band for a long time has been Birmingham’s Cracked Actors. I love the hot, sweaty, ram packed shows. I love the infusion of punky rock ‘n’ roll and reggae. I love seeing and mingling with the real characters – both on and off stage.
What do you miss most (if anything) about the old days, when we had plenty of local record shops and gig listings were in Sounds or local posters?
I miss exactly those things. I miss having to make the effort to find music that you want. When you had to put a few hours into finding stuff it was so much sweeter when you did eventually track it down. I hate the information overload that technology has created. It’s almost like there’s so much stuff pumped at you all the time that you switch off. When I was a kid I’d trawl shops for records, I’d read Sounds religiously and check out the back pages for gig listings and check out certain walls where I knew gig posters would be fly-posted.
You’d be a fan of John Peel too I guess, does radio still have an important part of your listening time?
Not really now. I have a couple of friends who are DJs on small stations. I check them out sometimes and send in the odd request.
Your five favourite Ruts tracks?
In A Rut – The punky opening salvo; I love its immediacy, the savage vocal delivery, the use of space and the shout along chorus.
Love In Vain – For me it’s one of the most hauntingly evocative songs ever recorded. Hugely poignant in the light of later events it’s a stunningly effective record.
Staring At The Rude Boys – Contemporary social commentary delivered over a catchy, melodic, swaggering rock ‘n’ roll tune.
Jah War (album version) – Lyrically addressing one of the British establishment’s many injustices against its country’s people set to one of the greatest reggae tunes ever delivered by a bunch of white boys
West One (Shine On Me) – A fantastic track that showed the band expanding their sound, while still retaining the all important Ruts signature. A glimpse of what the second studio album may have offered up.
And finally, your favourite flavour of crisps?
Still Salt and Vinegar!
Thanks for your time Roland, and hope we can catch up again soon. Still Burning
Anybody wishing to drop Roland a line or purchase any of his books can do so at www.kickinguparacket.com
For a chance to win a copy of Love in Vain tell us the name of The Ruts sixth (and sadly) final single that they released. Email your answer and name and address to email@example.com. Closing date is 22nd of August. Good luck, SB.
The Ruts website