Interview: HARRY STAFFORD (Inca Babies) / Intervju s Harryjem Staffordom

Harry Stafford, photo: John Kiely

After many years playing guitar for Inca Babies, Harry Stafford decided it's time for a change. He switched to piano and has tested newly written songs through more than a hundred solo gigs in Manchester. At last he choose some of them for the album called Guitar Shaped Hammers. It's the main reason for the e_mail interview with him.

It's strange that someone play new songs live before recording them. You did exactly so. How did songs develope through 100 gigs?
The first time I played a solo piano gig I was fairly hopeless. I played bum notes, panicked and began just bashing the keys in the hope the chaos whould excuse the inepitude. I knew then that there was no hiding and that I would have to learn how to play properly.
I did record some songs back in 2015 but listening back to my performance was a wretched experience, and I knew that I would have to actually learn the songs and the instrument with a clarity and freedom which would do them justice.
I remember reading an interview with Diamanda Galas (who seems to play in a chaotic fashion, but is actually very precise), saying: 'Learn the songs inside out, there's no excuse to play in a sloppy fashion'. And she is right, although I am still not a very good pianist, but by playing 100 live gigs I learnt the essence of performance and familiarity with the instrument to make the songs sound as good as they possibly could.

Guitar Shaped Hammers Has it something to do with certain age that you decide to do it on your own? A year ago the first solo album released James Johnston after many years leading Gallon Drunk...
I've always wanted to have my own solo Album. It's like every singers dream. I even looked at a load of 60s album covers and decided that I wanted to create something like that, a classic look but with something really subversive inside the sleeve.
I guess I was old enough and no one told me not to. I also think it was due to me learning the piano, a new instrument for me, and discovering that I now wrote music in a different way than I had before. Having written eight guitar albums, I really needed to try something else. I vowed that I wouldn't play a single note of guitar on the album so as not to repeat myself.

Could you explain the meaning of the title of the album, Guitar Shaped Hammers?
When I started playing gigs, often in open mic and solo artists nights numerous musicians would come in and play a few songs, and every single one of them would have a guitar. I had already had 35 years of the guitar, I was sick of it, break it up and turn it into fire wood! Was my philosophy. And yet there I was surrounded by guitars, hammering away at me reminding me how much I wanted to explore a new musical terrority, thus I was a piano player surrounded by 'guitar shaped hammers'. It's either beautifully poetic or utterly pretentious.

Many songs on it are based on piano, but also, many are still played with guitar as main instrument. What's the difference in approach?
I wrote the songs with piano and with Rob on drums and Kevin Davy playing his trumpet what I essentially had was something that sounded like jazz, I am in essence a punk who wants to play the blues, so I got the best slide guitarist I could find, Vincent O Brien, along with a guitarist Andrew Mills, who would just surprise me with his improvisation, I basically let these two loose. Not all they did ended on the album, but the stuff I liked sings sweet melodies to me. What was important was that my approach was different, I had to have some guitar on it as guitars speak the language of Rock and Roll and whatever else the album was going to be there was always going to be elements of Rock.

As Inca Babies are still active, how do you decide which new songs would be you solo effort and which will be developed into the Inca Babies song? Some songs on Guitar Shape Hammers could be Inca Babies' songs with different arrangement/approach (such as Dagger or Catastrophe).
Yes it was difficult, but because I wasn't playing guitar on the track I could easily distinguish between an incas song and a solo song. I actually have another Album's worth of solo album material and an Inca Babies album. It's a good thing because when the next Inca Babies album comes out it will be a very raucous exercise indeed with lots of noisy guitars.

Do you remember a moment when you decided to become a musician?
es, I was 14 and I heard the Ramones first album. It wasn't just the energy and fuzzed up bar chords it was leather jackets and ripped jeans, fuck yes!!!!!!

Inca Babies

Inca Babies were/are mostly influenced by The Birthday Party, The Gun Club and The Cramps. None of those were UK based. But all started sometime at the end of the 70s. So what was so excited about them? Did they „hit" you at the right age?
After punk the whole approach to playing Rock music had changed and now people applied punk to what ever else they were into. Blues, country, metal, experimental, techno electronica, folk etc. and at the time post punk all the safe flavours of music had been destabalised to include some teeth grinding angst, or bellowing subversion from the hangover of punk. It provided some very fertile areas of extrem rock. The Birthday party took the Stooges, jazz and blues and put them into a punk melting pot, The Gun Club did the same with country and bluegrass and The Cramps took rockabilly and inveted punkabilly. All of these band were such an influence on us at the time but it was all down to punk rock really!

I guess Inca Babies were not part of particular scene in Manchester in mid-eighties. But you not just survived, but were pretty succesfull with many singles on UK indie chart. Anyway Inca Babies split up sometime at the end of the 80s. It seems you couldn't adopt to the new brit pop wave and rave scene?
In Manchester there was definitely no scene for the Incas. Even the punk bands that came from Manchester seemed to have their roots in a hybrid beast from the afterbirth of Northern Soul. Instead of post punk in Manchester, they had jazz-funk, which was vile, it's was as if punk had never happened, and made the necessity for me to form a trash band guitar group all the more immediate. We had six great years making a noise while the soul sensibility of Manchester tried to ignore us.
In 1989 I wanted a career in Broadcasting and joined the BBC. It's a shame in a way because I was completely tamed by such a conservative organisation, so much so, that it took me 19 years to snap out of it and start making records again. And here I am!

Back to your solo album, what environment would you suggest while listening to the songs from Guitar Shaped Hammers? Are songs meant to be listened at home on vinyl, or live at the local pub, night club?
They are for a saloon in the wild west, but leave your fire arms at the door.

At the end, do you plan to promote the album with live gigs outside Manchester, or even in Europe?
We would like to play as many gigs as we are offered, it will be difficult as I am not that well known and people won't just give me a gig unles alot of people turn up. But I'd like to do some festivals so maybe there's a possibility.
We are playing in Manchester to launch the Album.

Empty the bones into the box - Harry Stafford from Harry Stafford on Vimeo.

(Rock Obrobje, november 2017)

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