Throughout that wild and wacky A.D. 2020, one disc seemed to somehow find itself repeatedly, and most happily so, upon the ol’ Pig Player. A disc which via a mere 21 tracks in under 69 minutes presents an ideal, not to mention idyllic picture of two musical careers which, cannily overlapping more often than not, displays all that was/is unfailingly, musically sound; all that’s, in actual fact, proper with Pop.
Kimberely Rew certainly needs no introduction here …and he should, in his various incarnations over the decades, already be well represented across any Pop Digger’s collection. But ever since joining force with his trusted right-hand vocalist/bassist-in-place Lee Cave-Berry, the game – or should I say Mission – became decidedly even more melodic and, dare I say, audacious.
Meanwhile, their grand new Greatest Bits collection, from the fine folk over at KL Recording, sure looks like it’s about to enter its second solid year within my headphones. So, while you all grab your very own copies, let’s find out all about these two, their tunes, and just how their end of the rainbow, Bloody Old England, may very well as ever be The Safest Place:
You absolutely make the perfect pairing, both musically and especially vocally. It really does sound like you must have both crossed paths often, and productively, during your fabled respective early days. Just how though did you “officially” meet, mesh, then decide to embark upon joint endeavors?
Kim: It’s a forty-year journey – I hate to use the word “journey” though; that’s what contestants use on Strictly Come Dancing, or Dancing With The Stars when they get knocked out of the competition they gush “it’s been a journey!”
We didn’t really get together musically until we got together personally, twenty years ago. Forty years ago I invited Lee to an audition at Alaska Studios in London, where the Soft Boys and Katrina and the Waves recorded. Then we both did what we both had to do with the big middle chunk of our lives: I had to “do” Katrina and the Waves, and Lee had to “do” having a baby – though that makes it sound like a conventional relationship, which I promise you it isn’t.
Lee: We met when we were both playing in different local bands in Cambridge (UK) in 1977, on the same bill, using the same equipment. You were very nice to me about the monitors.
Kim: I’m not usually nice to anyone about monitors. I think at that level of the music world, monitors are provided more on principle than because they’re actually going to help the musicians; usually a triumph of hope over experience.
Lee: You get too reliant on them. Then if you’re in a situation where you don’t have them, you’re stuffed! Ivan helped me to sing without monitors.
Kim: That’s out dear friend Ivan Carling: look him up. There are some sound systems – well-meaning but a long way down the food chain, for example in churches and crematoria – that make it harder to hear what the officiant is saying.
Lee: In churches the sound system is often set up by amateurs. But the church is designed to project the vicar’s voice, and the sound system simply competes with that natural echo.
Kim: Right. Question 2…
Lee: Have we answered Question 1?
Kim: No, but that’s our style!
Lee: When we got together we realized our voices were compatible.
Kim: And we like harmonies; John Lennon and Paul McCartney for example.
Lee: The first time you asked me to sing, after the audition, was in 2000, on Tunnel into Summer. We both have a soft voice, and they blend well. We tried singing into one mike.
Kim: Yes, a lot of the records we like were made with people singing into one microphone. It’s not easy! But if you can both get the air moving as it goes towards the microphone, that’s the sound we like. If you look at just about any photo of the Beatles singing in the studio, it’s into one mike.
We gradually meshed – we didn’t instantly start singing together as a unit, or writing together, though we were going in that direction. Lee made the Spring Forward album; I made various albums. Then I think Lend Me Your Comb was the first Kim and Lee album: We treated it as a joint effort from the “git-go” to the finished product. Then we played live together. We were both members of the same local bands. We were in the house band for Cambridge’s long-running Wednesday Session; we would occasionally get Kim and Lee bookings as a duo, or a trio with a drummer, then spring original songs on people in between the cover versions.
One thing which never fails to impress me when listening to your music is the sense of passion, positivity, and back-to-basic FUN in most each and every bar. I’d bet this grows out of that grand tradition of those prehistoric masters of the art, back when the roll was still part of rock. Would I be in the ballpark then to say I hear echoes of Buddy Holly and, in particular, Chuck Berry on your palette?
Kim: Yes, Chuck Berry is still my favorite in terms of energy, positivity, and the original spirit of rock ’n’ roll. He WAS rock ’n’ roll! And that hasn’t changed. People still go back to that time; they admit it’s the Golden Age. If you go back further, say to the musical Top Hat, 1935: Great songs, great dancing, great entertainment – that’s all included in rock ’n’ roll. The tradition of top-quality entertainment coming from the U.S., which we soaked up over here. But when rock ’n’ roll came along, it was simpler; anyone could join in the fun of making it themselves. And I hope we’re true to that spirit. We are old-fashioned, and people admit now that old-fashioned is good.
Anything like jazz, painting, literature, has become more serious, then self-referential. But that’s all fine; there’s room for everyone.
Lee: When we were in the Golden Age, we didn’t know it was the Golden Age. We thought it was ephemeral. It never occurred to me at 20 that I might be playing with people half my age when I was 60. I didn’t think I’d still be playing at 60!
Kim: There was a wider generation gap.
Lee, just how “biographical,” to coin a word, would you rank your song – a true favorite of mine, by the way – Backing Singer Blues?
Lee: I’m glad you like that one, Gary. It’s not autobiographical, though I have done some backup singing. I went into character. I was watching Jools Holland (the BBC’s flagship pop music show) and there was this small, white girl with a huge guitar, and behind her were three Amazonian backing singers with huge voices – she had a tiny voice – and I thought, Somebody in that Amazonian pack will think, Why is she there and I’m here? For example, Diana Ross wasn’t the best singer in the Supremes, but she was the prettiest. She didn’t have that huge gospel voice. It’s something you see a lot on TV; a great backing singer shoved at the back, out of the spotlight, quite often standing in front of the bass player!
I’m primarily a bass player, which is why that line in the song is funny to me. Even now it’s hard for a girl to be in a rock band; it’s still thought of as a male pursuit. It’s hard too for a singer: It’s a failing of musicians not to think of the singer as part of the band, or to think of the bass player as less important, and so on. It’s easier for a girl to sort of sneak into a band on bass, because none of the blokes want to play it! I’m passionate about it. Bass is much more powerful than people realize. It’s extraordinary how you can change a song from a country song to a rock song just by changing the bass line.
One thing which “Sunshine Walkers” reminded me of, but could very well come as quite the sonic shock to many listeners out there, is just how versatile, accomplished, and sometimes even randy a guitarist you can be Kimberley! Personally, I can detect Hendrix and even Lindsey Buckingham here and then there. Who would you cast as your prime inspirations of the six-string variety?
Kim: As I was saying, my favorite guitarist is Chuck Berry. The complete package: Delivers the music, sets up the song, takes you through at a cracking gallop. When I was starting it was the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Then Jimi Hendrix came along, but he was too good for this world. And I don’t think it’s been possible to say that about any other guitarist since. I’m referring back to that Golden Age again.
Lee: I always used to like playing in Jack (our long running Cambridge-based rock band), because I had Kim as Keith Richards one side, pushy and song-orientated, and John Wright the other side, who reminded me of Paul Kossoff with his sweet style. And Kim and Robyn Hitchcock both play differently with each other than they do on their own. I think lead guitar can be a very sexy instrument, which is why girls follow guitarists about… and often why blokes pick it up…
Kim: The inspiration behind Jack was lead vocalist Roger Smith, who sadly died of Covid.
Your “Best Of” contains both Flat Cat and The Dog Song. Speaking strictly petting sounds then, Who is the cat person, and Who is the dog person amongst you two?
Kim: We’re both cat people. Everyone in my family is a cat person, though not to the extent where their houses smell; they mutter and don’t answer the door etc.
Lee: My family’s the same. We like dogs, but we can’t have a dog and do what we do (though Katrina seems to manage OK!)
Kim: We thought it would be fun to write a song narrated by the dog, which is The Dog Song.
Lee: I like Kim’s story about how he got the idea for the song watching dog trial programs on TV: The dog’s running happily round the obstacle course, but the obligatory accompanying music is Highway to Hell by AC/DC, which didn’t seem right to him.
All roads have always run English in your lyrics and overall overview, to my eyes and ears. What exactly is it about that British isle …and Have either of you ever in your wildest schemes debated relocating to, say, L.A. or maybe even Valencia?
Kim: I’ve just looked up Valencia. I wasn’t aware of it; I’m guessing it’s some sort of artistic enclave. Over here we have Brighton, Bristol. But our favorite local scene is in Southend.
Lee: I’ve never wanted to go and live in the U.S. The first time I visited, I went for work. It wasn’t a good experience, particularly Immigration; I felt aggrieved, particularly as I was going to teach Americans how to do my job! And I felt like I was in a movie set: Everything I’d seen of it was on that little box, so it just felt like none of it was real!
Kim: I like England. I’d like to explore more of it and write about it. That’s what culture is: You see something good, you write about it, then hopefully someone can share your positive experience. And there are plenty of British rock ’n’ rollers who have adopted the original and returned it to the source with interest.
What then, all things in this strange new world considered, would you like to have be your next Big Adventure?
Kim: I’d like to get further into the soul of where we live, though travel isn’t possible at the moment. And meet and make music with our friends again.
Lee: We’re getting to stage where the next big adventure is the scary one.
Kim: Yes, we’re going to have to embrace that; which is not what you expect to hear in a rock ’n’ roll interview. But that’s the problem: It was a music for young people. Now there are plenty of old rock ’n’ rollers who don’t know what to write about! It’s a challenge.
Lee: I think “the next great adventure” should be applied to dying: We don’t know what happens next. Even if it’s nothing, it’s still different from what we’re doing now. The point is, everybody does it. We have to see if we can treat it less like a terrible thing, or not believing at some level that it’s not going to happen. There’s no proof around it, but you can have faith.
Kim: I think it’s possible to “feel right” about it.
Heavens forbid, but should ever the need arise to divide up your record collection and go your separate plays, Which albums – besides those of The Troggs, of course – do you believe you would each quarrel most over taking separately away with you?
Lee: We formed our record collections separately before we got together. I’ve got mine, you’ve got yours, so we wouldn’t argue.
Kim: Our tastes were already formed, and nothing’s come along since then to change that.
Lee: What could we argue about theoretically, if we had only one copy; if say we were on that hypothetical desert island? That’s the spirit of the question. We’d argue over Beatles albums.
Kim: There aren’t that many other examples. Status Quo: great band, but I wouldn’t think in terms of sitting down to listen to a Status Quo album. Likewise Hawkwind.
Lee: Five years between us. That’s a very long gap in your teens, when you’re forming your musical tastes. Our tastes are similar, but our backgrounds are different. I’m progressive; Kim’s purist. I was only 12 when the Beatles made their last recordings. I went on to Slade and T. Rex. You could just about afford a single if you did a paper round. Supertramp, for example, were too late for Kim.
Kim: Whereas I knew a world without the Beatles, then a world without Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Lee: It must be harder for young people to form musical tastes now, because everything’s available, free, all the time. Whereas then you had to be able to afford it to listen to it!
Needless to say, you cannot afford not to have some “Sunshine Walkers: The Best of Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry”. It should without a single doubt be classed Required Listening by all who deem themselves connoisseurs of all things p-o-p. Ready then? Here’s Where to Go to Get: