The Monochrome Set's colourful history to continue on their return to Preston's Continental
Celebrating an incredible 40 years since the band's formation, The Monochrome Set return to Preston's The Continental on Saturday, March 24 to promote their forthcoming album Maisieworld, which is due for release in the spring.
And though The Monochrome Set remain unknown to many, they are one of the most influential British bands of the last 40 years, with the Morrissey and Marr, Blur's Graham Coxon and Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos among their admirers. So they must be a pretty big deal right?
But what are The Monochrome Set all about? Original and constant member Bid explains: "We started in 1978 and we were part of the kind of new wave punk thing, except we were more new wave than punk. Then we've kind of been through three iterations - '78 to '85, '90 to about '96 and then we reformed in late 2010 and we are still going. We've released quite a few albums and we are still going!"
The line-up nowadays consists of Indian-born lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter Bid (real name Ganesh Seshadri), with keyboard player John Paul Moran, bassist Andy Warren (of Adam and the Ants fame) and drummer Mike Urban. But this line-up wasn't always the same and the story of the oft-changing cast of players is easily told by Bid: "We were just part of that wave of kinda late teens and early 20s bands who formed in the first place back in the late '70s and just wanted to make something a bit more relevant to people than these massively overblown punk rock albums that were being made at the time.
"And we just came together because Lester Square, Andy (Warren) and myself - we were in a band with Adam Ant called the B Sides about a year before the Monochrome Set - and Andy went off and formed the Ants and I formed the Monochrome Set with Lester Square. Andy was in the Ants for the first album, then he came over and joined us later. And we sort of carried on until about '85.
"But things changed just within two or three years of us being in a band - I mean things used to change an awful lot in the late '70s, early '80s very, very quickly. Not like now where nothing's happened for like 20 years. But in those days it was punk, and then suddenly it became all new romantics and then suddenly it became something else.
"So we were vaguely part of a wave in the late 70s, and then we stopped being part of that because suddenly everyone wanted to wear silky shirts and be very commercial and we weren't really part of that you know. So we just carried on in our own way and by about 1985 we still had a really big audience but we got sick of it and we stopped.
"And in 1990 we formed, partly for Japan. We'd heard we'd always been big in Japan but nobody had ever told us. And then we went over there and we were kind of stars in Japan for a few years. Then we got bored with that and we split up.
"And then I was in another band for a few years. And then we started again again!
"This other band that I was in, Scarlet's Well, were coming to the end of their time and we reformed The Monochrome Set and now we'll just carry on, I think.
"And so it's just much more fun to be in the business now and we are much more experienced and mature and can direct the course of our own career. So we can actually carry on until we die, without splitting up or getting despondent about it all. And a lot of old bands feel the same."
Being in the music industry for so long, it would be understandable that the many changes would affect the band, in the evolution of music and even the making of music. Bid said: "Not to us. Because we weren't really associated with anyone else, so we always kind of did our own thing. Like The Jam were part of power pop and The Pistols were part of punk. And we were just our own particular sound - experimental pop if you like.
"So we just carried on being ourselves and I guess because we've carried on producing albums we don't really have a problem with record companies and sales and things like that. It is extremely difficult for young bands to get anywhere these days. But it's okay with us. You know, we still get gigs and we play around the world a bit. It's actually easier for us because of the internet we are much more in control of our things."
Bid saw the funny side of the ease of recording an album in this digital day and age, laughing when he suggested that drummers can make mistakes and it's really easy to fix.
"Not that I'm suggesting that he does. In fact he doesn't this new one. He's really good.
"But recording an album is massively better now than it used to be, recording it digitally. I think that is a lot better for everyone. People with not much money can actually record a pretty decent album virtually at home, or a really small studio, and it really doesn't cost them an awful lot to do.
As the years passed for The Monochrome Set, so the memories have piled up. Bid recalled: "The very first tour in Japan in 1990 was really fun because we were kind of chased down the street and things like that. It was a bit like the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night! So that was a bit strange. It came completely out of the blue. Even at the airport when we arrived there were fans at the airport, so that was like really weird.
"The late '70s and '80s - that was a really tough period. And we were all so young and inexperienced and kind of just really had to fight to get our own way.
"I think recently it has just been the most fun period. We are playing places fairly regularly in England - it's not dependent on people that you don't know, phone calls, and waiting for things back, you just do all things by the internet.
"And the audiences are good. You know, the audiences were really good in the '80s but we didn't really have any contact directly with promoters and the fans, apart from all the fan letters we used to get, so we had to rely an awful lot on agencies and other people. I kind of like the way it is now.
With such a long career and having visited many venues in towns and cities throughout the land, it would be easy to forget places like little old Preston. But Bid was highly complimentary about the city, saying: "Preston is a great place to play and it's actually usually better than Manchester to play, I don't know why that is. I think it just brings in people from the north who don't particularly want to go to Manchester.
"Manchester is just a bit inward, you know, it's kind of inward looking. And the people are kinda like that. It's a great place to play but it's kind of like in it's own little bubble you know.
"And Liverpool, it's not just psychological, it's also geographical, that it's just always been really difficult for us.
"There are some cities, like London and Glasgow and Edinburgh that are just always outward looking cities. They are kind of interested in anything that's going around. And some places are just difficult. So you know Preston is a good place to play. And Sheffield is a good place to play. There are some cities that are just more sort of kinda happy, if you like."
As the main songwriter for the band, Bid had quite a lot to say on the subject, despite admitting that he didn't really know how he went about writing songs!
He added: "One thing that is really important, if you are doing any sort of writing at all, whether it is prose or poetry, you actually have to go out and experience things, otherwise you don't have anything to write about. If you just sort of sit on your own in a cottage in the middle of the country, you will end up not writing about anything apart from trees. So we go on tour, just live in a kind of busy city and then you've got something to do."
After 40 years in the music business, you might wonder what is next for such an influential band. Bid had the answer: "In showbiz, life expectancy is about 70, and we are coming up to 60, so we only have a few albums left! So it's a question of keeping going before you die. We just kind of keep going until we can't anymore. Because I think we can keep going.
"We keep making new albums that are a bit different and I think they are pretty good and we're not playing on the sound we used to have. We want to do something that interests us, that people like. We are in a position now we can almost do what we want to do, to a certain degree, and just have fun doing it."
The Monochrome Set land at The Continental in South Meadow Lane, Preston on Saturday, March 24. Support comes from The Distractions and Vukovar. Tickets are £12 in advance or £14 on the door. Doors open at 8pm. To book visit http://newcontinental.net or call 01772 499425.