Live Review and Article from the Dutch Magazine ‘Vinyl’ (1981)
Department S look rather tough: lots of leather, sunglasses, berets, and Vaughn is wearing a policeman-type cap. The band name does have a rather militant ring to it, but as it turns out, it stems from a cop show on TV. “We were looking for a name that sounded right and everyone came up with suggestions, but Department S was the only name we all agreed not to disagree on.” Their previous incarnation was Guns For Hire (“another name that sounds nice”), who recorded one single for Korova Records entitled “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend”, but this one failed miserably. Department S have been around for well over a year now (since July 1980) and their first single “Is Vic There?” was received with wild enthusiasm. It was recorded for the indie label Demon (“to attract attention from the record companies”) which introduced the band to their present manager, Gary Crowley. Department S signed with Stiff for their second single “Going Left Right”, a label which allows them to have total freedom, including sleeve design. The current single is also doing well, all the more reason for the band to push themselves to the limit. “Yes, well, things have been going fast after all. After the success we’ve been having with the first single we weren’t prepared for it at all, but now things seem to be going fast for the public, rather, whereas we get the impression that things are happening at the right pace. Our feet are firmly on the ground and we want to keep things that way too”, explains Tony. Vaughn: “This is our first big performance, but it isn’t what we want, really. We prefer to play smaller clubs.”
The main rationale behind forming Department S was their desire to escape the humdrum of a “normal” job, the same as with other bands. “We’re into havin’ a good time.” Punk proved to be the common denominator and provided the band members with a starting-point for making music instead, the only remaining alternative. Besides Vaughn and Tony there is Mike Herbage (Bage) on guitar, Stuart Mizon on drums, and Mark Taylor on keyboards (who replaced Eddy Roxy – now a member of Dream Sequence – after the debut single release).
Besides Vaughn and Tony there is Mike Herbage (Bage) on guitar, Stuart Mizon on drums, and Mark Taylor on keyboards (who replaced Eddy Roxy – now a member of Dream Sequence – after the debut single release). “Just like nearly all bands these days, punk was what brought us together, though few people realize this. It was mostly the Pistols’ attitude which appealed to us.”
This does not mean that Department S are a punk band. Of course there are distinct punk influences, but just as much is taken from pop and rock, some things from the blues even, as in “Whatever Happened To The Blues”, a song dealing with speed, characterized by danceable rhythm, short strong melodies on guitar and keyboards, and brief, snappy vocals. “We’re a dance band, that’s right. Not in the conventional sense, but like you can dance to lots of music nowadays, says Vaughn. Tony, on the other hand, feels that what they create is not merely entertainment. “You should be able to dance to music, okay, but it should also be alright to play it in your bedroom, if that’s what you feel like.”
Not that Department S have any particular statement to make. “Of course some opinions are incorporated in the lyrics, but people will have to think about them themselves. What’s more, everyone has different points of views within the band .” Tony: “We’re a group, as in a group of individuals. Of course we have similar points of view but those are rather obvious things. Everyone opposes fascism, for instance, but there’s no need to state that kind of thing, is there?”
Their roots are as varied as their views, except perhaps that none of them like “heavy hard rock”. “Vaughn loves glam rock, and Iggy Pop, whereas I like The Beatles and The Small Faces; Bage is bonkers about Lou Reed and Stuart for example is a funk freak”.
Tony keeps on rambling and sometimes finds it hard to leave part of the talking to Vaughn. “I’m not used to interviews”, he says afterwards. Two more singles are in the pipeline, of which “Clap Now / Monte Carlo Or Bust” is the third, which will include “Put All The Crosses In The Right Boxes” as a bonus track. What will be on the fourth one is still a matter of debate. Recordings for an LP will begin at the end of this year. How many songs released as singles will end up on the album? “Possibly two, maybe none. It depends on how many songs we’re yet to write. At the moment we haven’t got a great deal of time for rehearsing, but sometimes, all of a sudden, we get productive.” Department S: Going Alright.