DEPARTMENT S

MORE ARTICLES & REVIEWS

Guns For Hire - 100th Issue of Zig Zag Magazine, 1980

Guns For Hire
For most of last summer Guns For Hire were the best band in the world, the real killing joke as they wound up the music biz with just 500 badges and bags of suss. They were the band you'd get if you combined the spirit behind The Clash with the style of The Jam and added the requisite that go with all the best bands. The story goes like this:

Mod was a laugh and those who laughed loudest were the kids who started it and could see beyond The Bridge House to its inevitable end. For a while The Cambridge and The Wellington were good places to hang out but mod was dying by the time the world knew it existed. Few of the bands survived the hype but the spirit of the Early mod boom and the experience of punk fired the imagination of Vaughn Toulouse, well known face about town, who set about creating the perfect rock band. He roped in a few of his mates for this ambitious project and the first line up of Guns For Hire settled down as Vaughn, Bob Bethnal (Green), Gary Foghorn Crowley, Tony Lordan and a geezer called Paul on drums.

These were the Guns' finest days, ligging around town on the back of a non-existent band. Make no mistake, the idea of becoming a proper band was still a germ in Vaughn's turbulent brain. Booze and chaos were still the order of the day as Virgin's Shop staff found at their party. In September, three months after the fateful Marquee night when the Guns were conceived, the first batch of badges was delivered.


Featuring the ubiquitous 2-Tone geezer packing a pistol, the badge was responsible for making the Guns a full-scale cult. When you consider that there were no more than ten of us in the know and the badges sold in excess of 2,000 you might begin to twig that there was something going on. Aided by cryptic mentions in T-Zers and Sounds the band began to attract a certain interest as 2-Tonemania swept the land. People were convinced that they were an authentic 2-Tone band and I remember pissing myself at Aylesbury one evening as some bozo described their gig of the previous night.
Guns For Hire
I thought this was it but better was to come.

The following Sunday there was a Guns For Hire outing to The Venue to see The Teenbeats. During the gig Ginge (Spizz roadie and acting Guns manager) was approached by one of EMI's ever-on-the-ball A&R men who offered The Guns lodgings in a studio, all expenses paid until they came up with a single shaped thing. Laugh? We thought our trousers would never dry. It was after this ridiculous incident that the idea of a proper band began to rear it's head and seemingly overnight Vaughn turned in a bundle of really catchy streetwise lyrics. After toying with an all-star pickup band under the name of Vaughn Toulouse and the One Armed Bandits, he got on the case and came up with the first all-singing, all-dancing version of Guns For Hire.

Supported by Banshees promoter Dave Woods, the band went into the studio and got together a tape featuring Vaughn's first batch of songs and a devastating rockabilly version of Siouxsie's "Staircase". The band entered the present decade as Vaughn on vocals, Mike Herbage on guitar and ex-Madness boss John Hasler on the stool. The demos put the band in the same sort of field as The Nips, The Chords and the best of Madness, though don't take that as definitive. At the moment, on the strength of the demos several major labels are pursuing the band with pens at the ready.

Anyway, that's the history of the Guns and with a single ready ("I'm Gonna Rough My Girlfriends Boyfriend Up Tonight") they stand on the threshold of success. I can only hope they're as successful a band as they were a joke.

REMEMBER: GUNS FOR HIRE….DON'T HARGUE! - Suspect O'Typewriter.

Firing Blanks


Guns For Hire live review - Rock Garden, London - Paul Du Noyer - NME - 2nd August 1980


Rock Garden
Guns For Hire toss off numbers like they couldn't give an expletive. In spite of being a band that's gathering a bit of a reputation for itself, they were happy to make this night's gig a casual shambles; they didn't betray a trace of ambition, nor care or anxiety to impress. And yet, in some confused and chaotic way, impressive is just about what they were.

Thompson Twins
Guns For Hire, apparently special friends of this contingent, responded with a performance directed entirely for their benefit; and if the resultant atmosphere of rowdy camaraderie was enjoyable as spectacle, it did tend to leave the rest of us on the outside looking in. But it doesn't matter; for all the cheerful boasts of incompetence and under-rehearsal, Guns For Hire gave a demonstration of that same promise you can detect in their first single, the argumentative "My Girlfriends Boyfriend". A frankly stroppy song, it shows off the band's exuberant aggression well enough, but it can be a mite misleading - it's punch-drunk ska feel is by no means indicative of their whole sound, which veers more towards a sort of modernist punk. Line-up wise, GFH are your basic guitar-bass-drums outfit plus a singer who - whilst his onstage behaviour is completely in keeping with the band's (i.e. seems pissed) - lets the side down a trifle with some unnecessarily contrived vocals: basically a low, sonorous tremble, reminiscent of Bowie at his more ponderous, or Lou Reed anytime.

In between some unapologetic apologies like, "We ain't learned this one yet", they'd amble and crash through such numbers as 'Age Concern' and 'Product' - two songs, in particular, which sounded as interesting on the lyrical side as they're raucous on the musical. Unfortunately, it just wasn't the time or place, least of all in this packed and suffocating dungeon of a gig, to judge a comparatively inexperienced outfit's present abilities or potential.

Between Boots and Ballet Shoes


Paul Du Noyer - NME - 21st February, 1981


All That Jazz
Whoever Vic is, wherever Vic is, he can't take the credit for inspiring a very, very fine record. Written on the strength of a phone-call that turned out to be a wrong number, 'Is Vic There?' is the first single by some bunch calling themselves Department S. It's good, alright, and so are they. But you needn't take my word for it: in the recent NME Winners Poll, being chosen as a fave new act by Paul Weller and Bruce Foxton, with an additional 'best single' nomination by Weller as well.

I'd last seen four of the London five piece just as they were emerging from the ruins of a group called Guns For Hire, at a Rock Garden debut which singer Vaughn Toulouse was later to sum up as "A drunken bloody mess" - not a million miles from my own impression of the event, as it happened.
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Department S aren't used to the interview game yet and they discuss themselves with a succession of reluctant shrugs and mumbles, unwilling to try and define their music too closely, and partly suspicious after Vaughn had found himself grotesquely misquoted in a Hot Press piece last week. (But then you often find that the most eager, articulate talkers, who'll theorise about their work until the cows come home, are the ones least capable of delivering where it really counts: in the music itself.) Toulouse, incidentally, has only recently finished a stint as a critic himself, contributing reviews to The Face.

Anyway, the facts are these. The quartet which made its chaotic debut in London last July, soon grew to five-piece with the introduction of synth player Eddie Roxy - who left soon after to form his own synth-oriented group. His replacement is Mark Taylor, who doubles between synth and guitar: "Because the synth isn't important enough in our sound to warrant a full time player. The main reason we got it in the first place was just to fill out the sound - not to get all Gary Numan." Apart from Taylor and Toulouse, there's Michael Herbage on guitar, Tony Lordan on bass and Stuart Mizon on drums.

Back in the Guns For Hire days the group barely gigged at all, but did come up with one interesting single: "My Girlfriends Boyfriend" on Korova was a kind of stroppy punk with a ska edge. But it didn't set the world alight. With a change of personnel came the re-think, and a change of name. "It was a different group. It was fairer on the new ones. It was the first time we had a real group - GFH was never a real group". Having struck up an association with Jake Riviera, the new Department S found themselves with the chance to put out a 45 on Riviera's Demon label - resulting in the enigmatic and tense 'Is Vic There?', backed by a knockabout version of Bolan's 'Solid Gold Easy Action', both sides produced by ex-Mott The Hooplers Overend Watts and Buffin, who the band met through friends The Nips.

It was a rather unadventurous choice for a B-side, though the band themselves are less than happy with it, putting it down to running out of studio time and lack of control over mixing. "We did it for a joke in the first place, cos we didn't have enough songs.
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None of us was there when it was mixed. I really don't like that song", Vaughn explains. "It's about the worst song Bolan ever wrote. But all the best ones have been done, like the Banshees did 20th Century Boy".

The follow up single will be 'Clap Now' which they describe, pulling faces, as "Psychedelic Funk….with glam-rock drums". And if that sounds confused, it's meant to. "We're all different people really, all of us are having our own say".

Two of the group's bigger breaks so far have come with support slots for Toots & The Maytals ("except the crowds wouldn't listen cos we were different. I remember these kids at Cardiff shouting 'C'mon, skank it up boyo' and I just thought 'Aw, fuck off' ") and, more successfully with The Jam ("the only headliners to give us a decent sound check"). What remains to be seen is whether Department S can ever create a sizeable audience of their own. "Short hair music" is the definition that Vaughn Toulouse favours, but he stresses that their main aim is to find and provide an alternative - both to the elitism of Spandau Ballet & Co. and to the bootboy boredom of present punk.

Not that the band are ready to make any great claims for themselves. The reckless abandon of their stage act contrasts with the cautious reserve they display in other areas: "We haven't signed anything. We haven't even got a manager. We don't want to jump in until we know what we want to do. We're all fairly inexperienced in group things".

At the same time, they repeatedly assure me they're not taking it seriously, that "it's still a laugh". So can they succeed? I think that they can if they can find the will, they'll find there's a way.


We're Not Just a Bunch of Silly Cults


Betty Page - Sounds interview - 21st Feb, 1981


silly cults
Here, as I so astutely observed in my recent singles reviewette, we have what we in the trade call a tricky one. Clocking the five characters collectively known as Department S, you quickly realise that they are as motley a crew as you could wish to find this side of a menagerie.

The voice, Vaughn Toulouse: sharp dresser, cock sure, bit of suss. Bage: chubby guitarist, frilly shirt, tartan trews, sweet smile. Bassist Tony Lordan: Sta prests, doc martins, 2-tone chic. Stuart Mizon: sticksman, chubby in crombie. Eddie Roxy: swishly hair styled synth player.

Seewhaddamean? This ensemble have been looking unusual together for 8 months now, brought together by their mutual desire to avoid real work of any kind, and a wish to form a 'proper' group after the short lived Guns For Hire.

Vaughn, Bage, and Tony were those involved, but prefer not to harp on about GFH cos they felt justly miffed that when the band was in existence everybody ignored them but since Department S, the subject of the Guns just keeps coming up. For posterity, Vaughn and Bage, seated in the surprisingly Spartan surroundings of the Boomtown Rats office (only one gold disc!) set the record straight with regard to this one.

Bage: "Guns For Hire wasn't really a group. We got a record deal before we had any songs, so we had to come up with two."

Vaughn: "And Ska being the thing of the moment, we jumped on the bandwagon and fell off!"
Bage: "Blatantly, very blatantly."

Vaughn: "We got offered a deal with 2-Tone - The Specials were after us."

Bage: "They never caught us though."

Vaughn: "Our bandwagon was going too fast."

With that spectre successfully laid to rest, I ascertained that Dept S had swanned into a deal with Jake Riviera's Demon label with consummate ease, the result of which is 'Is Vic There?', that natty little number that made it's muddled little mark. Bage was pretty straightforward about it: "The only thing we've relied on is talent…. It's the best way to do it. You don't want to bugger around playing for years do you?" If you've got it, flaunt it?

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Vaughn: "It's just a case of, it's not what you know, it's who you know, and we know who the right people are. I'm the only one who knows Jake, but I think he's a good geezer. An alright character."

Bage (modestly): "It's not just that, we just happen to have a few good songs as well. I reckon our single's brilliant myself. If it was rubbish, it don't matter who you know, they'd tell you wouldn't they? If they think they're going to make money out of it, they'll do it. It just happens to be good."

True, true, but it is a real box of mixed biscuits; bits of psychedelia, bits of nouveau technology and bits of good old guitaring. Bage explains why: "It's all different 'cause none of us are into one sort of thing. We all listen to different records. I mean, we could say lets all dress the same so we've got an image. You've got your Spandau Ballet, they've got the cult with no name, we're the band with no cult, basically."

Vaughn: "We're different people, with different characters. It's no good us dressing up the same and pretending to like the same things 'cause we don't, that would be false."

Bage: "You can't even put a tag on us, which we like, you can't say they're a punk group or this or that and the other, cos we ain't. We just make good records. Well, we've made one good one!"

Vaughn reckoned they'd well and truly covered the options with their 57 varieties brand of music: "I think we'll outlast bands like Spandau because it's not all fad to us. We can apply to any sort of cult, verging on a lot of things."

Bage, it turns out, is responsible for the dreamy psychedelic quality. And the mysterious Eddie Roxy plays the echoing electronics, but never says anything. He spent most of the interview looking longingly at my 'lovely' legs (fool!). Vaughn is the man behind the cover versions of Bolan and Roxy. But they don't stand rigidly behind their tastes. Vaughn elucidated: "Bage said to me: Listen to the first two Pink Floyd albums - so I did. God…..They were alright, but it wasn't my cup of tea. I think we've all listened to them now, that's fair enough. But I'll tell him to take it off and listen to a Marc Bolan album or something and he will."

Despite impressions to the contrary, Vaughn isn't a Bolan freak, in fact his hero is James Cagney, the old Yankee Doodle Dandy trip, a fact that made itself obvious when he executed a neat shrug of the shoulders, dirty rat style. Down to earth Tony did reveal one common influence though: "You don't get a band coming together from different directions - we all came from punk rock, we were all into that.

I suppose we've all drifted off into our own directions that we were into before that, but in a new way, with fresh ideas."
Top Of The Pops Shoot

Bage: "But we're doing it properly this time instead of buggering it up."

Vaughn: "Even Marc Bolan, though he changed it to a vast degree, was doing sort of long guitar solo's and drum breaks. The New York Dolls hit that on the head, but no one knew about them until mid '77."

Not exactly plundering the archives, but taking the best and bringing it up to date?

Bage: "It's not consciously taking the past, it's just what's in your head. If you've got crummy stuff there you won't use it, will you? You don't go back to 1974 and say, ah, that was a good riff, we'll have that one." Vaughn got to the bare bones of the matter: "Basically, none of us want to work. That's why we're doing it. Everybody's on the dole and moaning about it at the moment, but I think it's great. I've been on the dole for three years. It's triffic."

I probed them about their definition of themselves as being 'The 1980's produce of 25 years of rock', but got a politicians answer.
Vaughn: "We're all Jeff Bridges fans. There'll be lots of groups coming out soon naming themselves after television shows, it'll be the next big thing."

Tony: "The Waltons are coming soon."

Various band members gave away their age by remembering Department S and Peter Wyngarde with startling accuracy: that 'tache, the awful haircut, the frilly shirts, (just like the one Bage was wearing!) and how he disgraced himself in a public toilet.

"But we don't cover that side" assured Vaughn, "That's not an influence". Their real influences (yes, they do admit to them) range from Lou Reed, James Brown, and Bow-Wow Wow to Edith Piaf. But not Vic Godard. I'd read somewhere that the legendary Vic that they wished to track down on vinyl was that man, but such an idea was met with screams of denial.

Bage: "Can we throw her out the window now?"

Tony: "It's Victor Mature actually."

Vaughn: "Vic Godard can have it if he wants it. I hear he's been looking for it. He's not one of my heroes though. Not a James Cagney."

Dept S haven't been that easy to catch live of late, and those gigs they have done have varied wildly in quality. Again it comes down to internal disagreement.

Bage: "Some of us like playing, the others don't. I hate it, Tony loves it. To me it's a necessary evil, to him it's a reason to get drunk."

Tony fought back: "I just don't like the idea of going back to the late 60's, early 70's bloody studio band thing. It's pathetic."
Vaughn prefers playing eventful places like the Rainbow and Hammy Palais, but rejects the so-called prestigious venues like The Marquee, which he calls 'a pit'. That doesn't mean they approve of the secret gig syndrome.

Bage: "If we played a secret gig, no-one would turn up! We've played in small places most of the time, it's always been our mates turning up. Spandau Ballet make a big thing about it, but we've been doing it for yonks. I suppose I don't like playing half the time 'cause you get morons coming along who take no notice, who're just there for the piss up and all that crap. It's a pain in the arse lugging gear about, not getting a sound check, all that crap. I'd rather stay at home and watch the telly."

Vaughn: "You can't win, it's hard at the top."

Bage: "It'll be even worse when we get there."

Such a happy band, always telling jokes. Despite the fact that John Peel likes them, Dept S aren't doom and gloom merchants. In fact, they're seriously thinking of assassinating Vaughn so they can sell more records. Fame, money, more fame and prosperity is all they ask for. It's early days yet.

Bage: "Not a lot has happened to us. We've got quite a lot of press for what we've done. We don't phone people up and say we're brilliant, but people have heard of us. Probably something to do with Crowley." (As in Gary, band publicist/TV personality/Jam fanatic).

Vaughn: "But there's not much competition. We will get big. Every 5 years you get an excellent band - Elvis, Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin (!), T.Rex, Pistols and now…"

Bage: "I suppose it'll be more interesting talking to us in about a years time, single at number one, walking down the road and getting mobbed…"

I remarked that I found them refreshingly honest. (No, not conceited!) Bage puts his foot in it: "It's no good coming out with a load of bull though. You should have seen us at the Rock Garden though, we were brilliant?" Well, if you think you're good…

They played me a tape of a session done for Richard Skinner, which included their next single, a funkier, dance oriented number, but again totally different from their other tracks. It's as if parts of them become dominant in turn: tantalisingly herd to pin tags onto, which is just the way they like to keep it.

We retired to The Pretenders' office (more gold discs in there!) to take pix. While Tony was trying to hide behind Bage, Vaughn was preoccupied with the way his jacket hung and expressed a desire to spread himself across a desk, playgirl-fashion, just like Montgomery Clift used to do.

If they don't end up scratching each other's eyes out, the delicate love/hate balance currently at work in Department S should see some more damn fine ditties coming our way. How can a band named as Paul Weller's fave new rave possibly fail?

Puerile Skins Fail To Dig Neo-Futurism Shock


Department S live review - Clarendon Hotel, London - 24th January, 1981


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One of the problems with being a critic is that one tends to look too objectively at bands. One doesn't think about what they may be able to do in the future - a concert is too often treated as one complete act, rather than a reference point within a larger act. Although they are under-rehearsed, Dept S are tight and solid with some beautiful funk(y) guitar playing from Michael Herbage. He plays in a style that's free flowing and breezy, creating a froth over the bass/drums rhythm section. The light wind that Herbage eases out of his guitar is marred only by the wooden and (over) simple synthesiser playing of Eddie Roxy.

The sounds that he drags out of his synth are totally superfluous to the music that Department S are/should be aiming for. The music has to grow more until a proper assessment can be made, but so far Department S are building something that could be worthwhile. Even though at the Clarendon they were faced with an audience of apathetic punks and puerile skinheads, interested only in pouring beer over each other's heads, Department S fought on. Once again we find we are back to the problem of atrocious concert venues stunting the growth of bands who have yet to find themselves. They must be radical, and not rely on cover versions of Bolan and Roxy songs (although I love them) to gain audiences appreciation. Too safe. They are not quite strong enough, they are not breaking new ground. Yet they must break new ground, they must, they have to - if only to survive.

Chris Burkham - 'Sounds'

Great!


Department S live review - Clarendon Hotel, London - 31st January, 1981


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The atmosphere of a clandestine gig pervaded the Clarendon basement, with people overflowing from every nook and cranny. It's the type of place where probably half the audience is in some band or another. Department S had no problem in pulling a fair sized crowd, probably because the band have received more than the occasional airplay on the John Peel show, even though their name sounds more like that of a TV programme. Many of their songs were about vision, including television. They put all the crosses in the right boxes. 'Take a Bow' was an apt beginning, followed by the single 'Is Vic There' to fill your ears with music while the night is young. But there is not here. The vocals, guitars, and synthesiser blended together to give depth to their songs. A couple of cover versions were thrown in: an old Roxy Music number for one, and another, Bolan's 'Solid Gold Easy Action' fused in perfect unity with The 'Stones' 'Satisfaction'. Very clever, and very stylish.

AMANDA NICHOLLS - 'Record Mirror'
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