KNOW YOUR RIOTS
JOHN OPPOSITION GETS THE LATEST INFA-MATION FROM INFA RIOT
Sounds, July 31st 1982
SO IT’S eyes down for the identikit feature with the New Added Punk Ingredient and the Dave McCullough Lager Top Stereotype.
Except that it’s not like that, and especially, not this week, ‘cos here we’ve got something different, a new ingredient indeed.
Welcome to the Infa Riot Feature – and the Lee Wilson Interview.
Like most people with half an ear for what’s going on, the name Infa-Riot permeated my consciousness a goodwhile ago. I never got round to seeing them live, though, and until recently my knowledge of their music was limited to ‘Power’ their contribution to the ‘Wargasm’ LP, and the recent single ‘The Winner’, both of which were excellent.
Then came the saga of the tape.When offered this feature I accepted readily; not being one to attempt an interview with a band without being thoroughly familiar with their material, I ‘phoned Lee and requested a tape or two.
The next day he turned up at the Sounds office with what purported, to be a tape of their new album, and for the next few days it rarely left my cassette player; magic.
When I raved about it to recently-installed Reviews Editor Robbi she immediately said ‘Right!’ Review it – review it!’ So review it I did, a spanking five stars it got, and then I heard that what I had was only a tape of the rough mix and a couple of tracks were still to be added.
To say the least, I was rather taken aback. If that’s a rough mix – ten star reviews, anyone? And the good news is that the prematurely reviewed masterpiece, entitled ‘Still Out Of Order’ (see review) and featuring the two extra tracks, will be released on July 29th 1982.
The main section of this article comes in two parts; Part One is the Infa Riot Feature and Part Two the Lee Wilson Interview. The reasons for such a division will soon become apparent.
Having familiarised myself with their material, I met the band in a West End pub, hoping for some general information and communication, some insights into their ideas and attitudes and a few of the other ingredients from which
interviews are constructed and written.
What actually happened was that I spent two hours in almost uninterrupted conversation with singer Lee while the other three members of the band, Barry (guitar). Lee’s brother Floyd (bass) and Mark (drums) sat impassively, obviously content to let their articulate and enthusiastic front man do the talking for them. I asked them whether they minded being so much in the background and it soon became obvious that they didn’t; it appeared to be mutually agreed that, both on stage and off. Lee was the man to get the Infas’ message across. Their elected representative, if you like.
FOR THOSE of you who don’t already know, Infa Riot formed approximately two years ago and came to prominence in a relatively short space of time through
well-publicised support tours with the Upstarts and the Exploited.
They’re all under twenty. Lee and Mark being 19 and Barry and Floyd 17; their first nationwide tour was undertaken when the two younger members were not yet sixteen and they’re quick to point out that not many people get opportunities like that!
Like many bands, they have had problems with drummers – a breed much in demand – and Mark (ex Long Tall Shorty, incidentally) is their third; Lee states
confidently that he feels the present line-up to be a more secure unit than it’s ever been before. And that’s the thing about Lee Wilson; he states most
things confidently. Not arrogantly or big headed; mind, but with the assurance and articulacy of a man who is pleased with the way his band’s fortunes are
going, aware of the responsibility of his position and always on his toes looking for new opportunities. Many excellent performers and songwriters turn out to be inarticulate clams in face-to-face conversation, but not Lee; I was sufficiently impressed at our first meeting to ask him for another interview on his own a couple of weeks later. It was then that I obtained most
of the information documented below.
LEE AND brother Floyd hail originally from the Davenport area of Plymouth, a dockland area where the main choices for a school-leaver are the docks or the dole. Many of my own relatives live in the Plymouth area and I visit it regularly; I can endorse Lee’s description of the local music scene as ‘virtually? non-existent’ although things do seem to have
been looking up a bit of late. One of the problems of living in a place like Plymouth (or anywhere; really, that isn’t near London) is that it is
considerably more difficult for bands to get coverage in the national music press, and more difficult to make the contacts to get a band together.
So it was really no surprise to learn that Lee’s desire to be in a band didn’t really materialise until he moved with his family to Wood Green, North London, in 1978.
Having quit school at 16, just before leaving the West Country, he spent a few months on the dole in London and did the usual variety of short-term dead end jobs. Then the band got under way and things really began to happen, right from their first gig which, astonishingly, was supporting the Upstarts at the Lordship Tavern.
Lee is the first to admit that they were incredibly fortunate to get such an opportunity so early; while countless excellent bands spend months and sometimes years plugging away unnoticed in obscure venues, the Infas were on a winner (no pun intended) from the word go. Let me chronicle, for a mordent, the activities and achievements of Infa-Riot’s energetic vocalist.
He writes the band’s songs, deals personally with most of the publicity and acts as front man and manager for the band. He negotiated their record deal (with Secret records) and publishing deal (“I just got hold of the various
contracts which we were offered, decided what I wanted, read them through and decided which was the best one”). He looks after the band’s financial affairs (“So many bands just sign and think oh, great, and then when they get a five
thousand pound tax bill a couple of years later they don’t know what to do”).
All this on top of the usual round of gigs, tours and recording, and interviews like this one.
Lee stresses that there’s no way he wants to be seen as (or is) some kind of single handed hero or super businessman, and his message to other bands is that it is eminently possible for everyone to run much of their affairs
themselves and to achieve a fair deal of autonomy.
“Everyone complains about rip-off managers and dodgy record and publishing deals, but in the end it’s down to you to make sure you don’t get ripped off. If you get done, you’ve no-one to blame but yourself.
“And in this day and age it’s very hip to sign a deal and then spend half the time slagging off your record company, saying what a bunch of tossers they are.
“I don’t agree with that at all. I signed to Secret because I was in agreement with the deal they offered us, and because I knew I could talk to the people there. I think it’s stupid to sign if you’re not sure, and then spend hours complaining about it.”
It does seem to me that I there is often a massive conspiracy between record companies (who churn out long, incomprehensible contracts often containing rip-off clauses), lawyers (who I ask hugely inflated fees to decipher them for you) and managers (who promise the earth with an Albanian tour thrown in for 25% gross).
How good it is therefore to meet someone who, at the age of nineteen and with little or no formal legal education (Lee claims CSE’s in Art and English) is (prepared to do the necessary groundwork to take on the wide boys at their own
game. It just goes to show that O land A Levels are no real judge of ability and often mean very little in the real world, and that determination, belief and passion count for a hell of a lot.
THE ORGANISED way in which Lee approaches his various tasks as general motivator of Infa-Riot is testimony to the fact that both his feet are planted firmly on the ground, and that there is no way that a certain success has changed his basic attitude to life.
“Leaving school at sixteen and experiencing life on the dole and in the working world has given me a strong sense of how privileged and lucky I am to be able to earn a reasonable living doing something which I really enjoy, especially in the present situation.where so many kids are either on the dole or doing boring, low-paid jobs.
“So many bands become really blase about touring, recording or whatever, ‘Oh, no, another tour, another album’, and I think that’s really disgusting, ‘cos they don’t realise how lucky they are to be doing what they do.
“It’s like at our gigs. The most fantastic feeling in the world for me is when I look out of the window and see all those kids queueing up and I think ‘Christ, they’re coming to see me, they’re coming to see our band’, I feel really flattered.
“I think it’s really terrible when bands start to take all that for granted, and as far as I can see nobody who has ever worked in some dead end job and then got the chance to live from playing music could ever feel like that.”
And how I agree with Lee when he says that, I feel it too. All of us doing jobs we really enjoy are really lucky in Thatcher Britain ’82; we should never take it for granted. Lee is so involved with and committed to his work with the band that when I ask him about interests outside music his answer is quite simple; “All this satisfies me so much I don’t look for much outside of Infa-Riot. I’ve got loads to do and I love working under pressure.”
His musical tastes are mostly punk, but he also likes Alice Cooper, T. Rex and the first Dexy’s album (another fan!) He gets sent loads of tapes by up-and-coming bands and lists The Expelled as one of his favourites at the moment. As for influences and helpers; Mensi and the Upstarts of course, and his dad (“He’s a real rebel, he’s in his sixtieth job, he’s more out of order than most of the punks are!”) And a special mention to our own Bushwacked (Garry Bushell).
“He’s made sure we kept our feet on the ground; a bit ago, when things started to go well, we got a bit snooty and full of ourselves and Bushel! saw it and put something about it in the paper. I read that and thought, he’s right. It made me think. Gal’s done far more than anyone else for punk over the years.”
SO WHAT’S the motivation behind Infa-Riot?
“Well, it’s a youth rebellion thing I suppose and I’m a kind of political commentator, I look at a situation and write about it, without taking
sides (I’m not too sure about the ‘not taking sides’ bit. Lee, what about ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’?).
“And there’s something else I’d like to say; none of this group have got a criminal record. . .”
The mere fact that he feels the need to say such a thing is a sad testimony to the attitudes of some bands (mentioning no names?) who think that the ultimate test of street credibility whatever that is – is the number of convictions
you’ve got, and how nasty you look on your LP cover. Bloody ridiculous if you ask me; music is an – alternative to violence and general mayhem, not a bed partner as some people seem to think. Lee is also at pains to stress that he doesn’t touch drugs (same here) and never drinks more than three pints a night (can’t agree with him on that one).
His ambitions; to tour the States, which is in the can (“I’ve never been abroad, indeed, I’ve never had a proper holiday in my life”) and generally to see the band rise to still greater heights. Which I’m sure they will, although he’ll never have his head in the clouds. And this is an important point. Lee Wilson is a very intelligent, articulate and clear sighted bloke, and he is nearing the position where he could conceivably be elevated to the position of ‘spokesman for a generation’ or some other such pompous rubbish, the kind of thing that happened to lan Page or Jimmy Pursey.
But Lee sees the pitfalls ahead and is determined to avoid them.
“At the moment I want to see how the album goes, and then make further plans, I’m very pleased and flattered by what’s happened, but I’ve got it all in perspective.”
And so I ask him what he thinks he’ll be doing when he’s fifty.
“Running my own record company, I expect.”
Ambition and foresight. You bet he will.