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Catherine Wheel revisited - an interview with Dave Hawes

CW pic by Alastair Thain
18 November 2018

Photo by Alastair Thain
Formed in Great Yarmouth, UK back in 1990, Catherine Wheel released a diverse body of work during it’s ten year existence that still resonates today. In fact, last year saw re-releases of their first two albums (1992’s Ferment and 1993’s Chrome), on Music On Vinyl. In addition, 2018 sees Record Store Day-themed reissues of 1995’s Happy Days (Universal Music), and their exceptional b-sides compilation from 1996 Like Cats and Dogs (Mercury). While not entirely dormant since 2000, lead vocalist/guitarist Rob Dickinson released a solo LP in 2005 while lead guitarist/backing vocalist Brian Futter and drummer/backing vocalist Neil Sims combined forces and self-released a full-length in 2007 under the 50ft Monster moniker. These recent reissues provided a chance to catch up with the band’s bassist from 1990-1999, Dave Hawes and revisit the band’s halcyon days. Below is the entire interview from last year that issue 82’s short take was based on. Much appreciation again to Mr. Hawes for taking time out to answer this superfan’s queries!

JB: With both Ferment and Chrome vinyl reissues in 2017, did you have any input or directional authority on these projects? Were there any special treatments to the recordings/artwork such as remastering/touch-ups etc? It is so great to have these two LPs see the light of day again!

DH: A few months ago Brian, Neil and I received an email from Rob’s wife, Tina, who I believe still handles the “business side” of Catherine Wheel asking our consent for Music On Vinyl to reissue Ferment and Chrome on coloured vinyl. Of course, I said yes. I love coloured vinyl for a start! There was no remastering or tweaking (as far as I know); just a straight reissue. I received some copies in the mail recently and they sound great. I’m very happy with the reissues.

JB: Can you share some of your fondest memories of that period of the band’s history, 1990-1993? What was it like residing in Great Yarmouth at that time and how did the band form?

DH: Those years were particularly exciting and my personal favourite time of being in CW. I was living in Lowestoft, Suffolk, which is hardly known for it’s musical heritage (although The Darkness has since helped with that), and a band I was playing guitar in called The Eternal had come to an end and I was looking for a new adventure when I saw an ad in Andy’s Records looking for a “bass player into House Of Love, My Bloody Valentine and Stone Roses”. I was definitely into those bands so I called the number on the ad and Rob answered. We met up about three weeks later and they played me some demos the three of them had been working on and I went home and learnt them and then we got together for our first rehearsal. I got the “we’ll let you know” thing at the end and then about a week or so later Rob called me to say I was in. I think they only had one other reply to the ad!!!
The demo tape included the songs that would become the She’s My Friend EP (from 1991), and it was fantastic to get an offer from Barry Newman at Wilde Club Records, a small indy label in nearby Norwich, to put it out on 12”. Everything started to snowball very quickly after that. A&R men from labels such as Beggar’s Banquet, Creation, Fontana etc. started showing up to our gigs along with journalists from NME and Melody Maker all vying for our attention. John Peel even played the record which was a dream come true. We could have called it a day then and there and I would have been happy! You have to know I would listen to Peel every night and read the music weeklies from cover to cover every week and all of a sudden we’re getting rave reviews including our second single, Painful Thing EP (also from 1991 – charting at no. 5 on the UK indie charts!), being named Single Of The Week in NME and being asked to do a session for John Peel.

JB: What does it mean to you to get these albums back into the hands of fans who have been dying for them all this time? The original pressings go for such extraordinary amounts of money nowadays that many are very thankful these are back in circulation.

DH: I’ve always loved vinyl and am happy about the resurgence of this format. Of course when these albums were initially released, vinyl was on its way out so there was only a limited run. So it’s great that Music On Vinyl decided to reissue.

JB: Looking back at the time of recording/releasing these records, can you describe the band’s mindset transitioning from Ferment to Chrome? What was the creative process like for both records and what kind of “lessons learned” did the band apply going from one to the other?

DH: The main thing I remember when going to record Chrome was that we didn’t just want to make Ferment 2. And through continually touring between Ferment and going into record Chrome we had evolved into a harder sounding band. It just seemed a natural process and so Chrome turned into a harder sounding album and I think Gil Norton was the perfect producer for us at that point of time. We went in with the songs well-rehearsed and I really enjoyed recording Chrome especially doing it in Britannia Row studios where Joy Division had recorded Closer (a personal favourite band and album of mine).

JB: Bands that reinvent themselves with each new album and be able to pull it off substantially well are a very rare breed. Catherine Wheel was one such band. From Ferment to Chrome to Happy Days to Adam & Eve each are distinct and vitally important because each stands up so well on its own. Was it the band’s intent during each record’s approach/idea sifting to deliberately NOT make a new record sound like it’s predecessor? Can you describe the band’s creative process back in those days? Did each of you have input during writing/recording?

DH: Each album we saw as a natural progression from the previous album. From a writing perspective it was always Rob and Brian who were the main force behind the songs. That being said, I do like to think that when they came to rehearsals with a skeleton of a song that Neil and myself added our own touches to the songs. Some time during the mid ’90s we got our own rehearsal space in Great Yarmouth and would rehearse Monday to Friday and record pretty much everything onto cassette tape. I have dozens of tapes somewhere! It would be fun to listen back if I had a cassette player! 

JB: Catherine Wheel was an exceptional b-sides band as well. Like Cats and Dogs ranks right up there with CW’s proper LPs! How much care did the band pour into its b-sides output? Were b-sides usually recorded with album material and later decided upon which cuts made a record?

DH: I am very proud of our B-sides and really think “Like Cats And Dogs” is a great album in itself and not just a collection of B-sides. In my younger days I was an avid record buyer and would often be disappointed when playing the B-side of a phenomenal A-side. A lot of bands would just put a “throwaway” track on; usually a song that wasn’t strong enough for an album and I don’t think we ever did that. I seem to remember recording our B-sides separately to doing our albums which I think was a good idea so to keep the focus on whatever album we were recording at the time. 

JB: What do you miss most about the band? Looking back with the luxury of hindsight, is there anything you would have changed or done differently? What kind of lessons learned philosophy would you apply if time and space were not consequential?!

DH: I was with the band from its inception in 1990 to late 1999 and have nothing but great memories especially the first five or six years. After “Adam And Eve” I think the wind in our sails had been deflated from what could be seen as “plateauing” from a record sale perspective. It’s all well and good being proud of your body of work but deep down you always want to keep going forward sales wise. Maybe we felt we were treading water. 
It’s strange but I wouldn’t say we were that close as friends. I had a good relationship with Brian as we roomed together but when we weren’t recording or touring the four of us never “hung out”. So it’s not like missing a friend as such. More like an ex-wife!

JB: To me, the band’s watershed moment was Adam & Eve. I became turned on to the band rather late when a friend threw a copy of the Big Takeover in my lap (it was issue 38 with Catherine Wheel on the cover!), so the first time I saw the band live was in Chicago for one of the pre Adam & Eve live dates where you played the album in its entirety. I continued to follow the band around the midwest (U.S. & Canada), during that tour. Not only is the album absolutely brilliant (and 1997’s finest!), the band was just as intense on that tour; arguably at its creative peak. Do you think there will be a reissue of Adam & Eve in the future?

DH: “Adam And Eve” is my personal favourite album. I think we were at our musical peak and Rob and Brian were writing amazing tunes. Add in Bob Ezrin as an executive producer and hey, presto! He produced Lou Reed’sBerlin” album (a top 5 album of mine), and I think he added some of that magic dust to A and E. 

JB: Did you ever get sick of fans starting sentences with, “Why this band never became huge …”? Did you take that as a compliment or did it become an irritant? Fans mean well but I think it is important to let a band be/evolve into what they want to become.

DH: It’s not annoying to me. I’m not denying that it would have been nice to have had that one song that propelled us to the next level but we put out a fantastic body of work and that is more important than anything else…isn’t it? But I seem to recall the rise of Radiohead being a thorn in our side at times but good for them.

JB: I have to ask as, at the time, I was disheartened when I did not see your picture on Wishville’s inner sleeve when it was released (in 2000), and later learned that not only did you not record with the band, you would not be playing live either. Are you at liberty to discuss what happened back then? Do all four of you still keep in touch? I still pulled for the band and followed them around in 2000 but, something was off (at least from a fan’s perspective). There was a vibe then the band would not last much longer and I hated feeling that.

DH: OK. Here is what happened; at least from my perspective. I say that because I have never talked to the other three about it. We finished the Adam and Eve tour and took some time off (as was usual between touring and recording a new album) to recoup. At some point I got a phone call for me to fly back to the UK for rehearsals of what would become “Wishville”. Everything seemed business as usual although we had been dropped by Mercury but picked up by Sony. Tim Friese-Greene was back in the role of producer and I went back to the States expecting a call to say we’re heading into the studio. That call never came! Instead our manager called to say the band had decided to split ways with me due to the old cliche of “musical differences”, blah blah blah. I didn’t have any communication with any of the band members until 2008 (?) when Rob called me about a possible reunion. Then within a matter of an afternoon I had talked to Rob, Brian and Neil which was great. However, the reunion never did happen but it felt good to be in touch with everyone again. And I got an email from our manager (Merck Mercuriadis), apologizing for what happened. Water under the bridge.

JB: What song/moment do you remember that made you realize you wanted to play in a band/be a musician? We always hear about those “a-ha” moments where a light clicks on and destiny is set based on one song, life event, film, etc. Was it similar for you?

DH: I was lucky enough to be born in 1963 meaning I was 13/14 when the whole punk thing happened in England. I loved the (Sex) Pistols and Damned etc. and that really was the catalyst for me to play an instrument. I bought a cheap guitar, The Clash first album songbook and went from there. I played guitar in various bands and then got into the more gothic stuff like Joy Division and The Cure and loved the bass lines so switched to the bass. I think “A Forest” was the first bass line I learned!

JB: With the reissue of Ferment now sold out and the same likely to happen with Chrome, any possibility of the band rekindling its existence? Maybe playing a handful of dates? What kind of CW fan would I be if I did not ask, right?

DH: If we do a reunion it better be soon otherwise we’ll need a ramp up to the stage for the wheelchairs!

JB: What was it about the UK punk movement (Pistols, Damned, et al) that initially struck you at that time? Why did you gravitate towards that scene? Did you catch any of those bands live back then? 

DH: I think the punk movement captured my 14/15 year old malleable mind at a perfect time. I have a brother who is four years older than me and so he would be playing his Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin albums and they just didn’t appeal to me. I liked the glam bands like Mud, Slade, T Rex etc. but they came across as “pop stars” and I was just a schoolboy. Then all of sudden, there were these 3 minute bursts of pure energy that certain DJs (like John Peel) would play and I just related to those bands. Maybe I could even be in a band like them? Unfortunately, living in a small coastal town, where no bands came, I was too young to see the punk bands at the very start. My first true punk concert was the UK Subs who came to Lowestoft in 1980. Then I saw The Damned a bunch of times from 1980 to ’82. It was just a magical time and I am so glad I grew up when I did. I don’t think kids today get that feeling from music but I hope I’m wrong.

JB: I would like to dig a little deeper into what happened with the scrapped reunion of 2008. This must have been before Rob’s Porsche restoration company (Singer) started gaining attention in sports car circles? I know Rob released a solo record and Neil/Brian released a an album under “50 ft. Monster” since CW ‘parked’. Have you been keeping up your bass chops? 

DH: As I wasn’t there at the very end when CW “parked”, I was unaware of how it all went down but I guess it didn’t end amicably and fences hadn’t been mended enough in 2008 for us all to jump aboard the reunion train. I think now we would definitely explore the possibilities of playing again more seriously should the opportunity arise. I didn’t play bass for 8 years after leaving the band. Actually, my bass guitar was in the rehearsal room where I left it so I didn’t even have one to play! I finally got back to playing a few years ago and I play in a local band just doing covers of ’90s songs. It’s fun and keeps me in beer money.

JB: How did relationships with Tim Friese-Greene, Storm Thorgerson, Gil Norton, Bob Ezrin come about (especially for a band without a huge budget)? Catherine Wheel covers are just as captivating as the music within. Did the band have input on designs with Storm? 

DH: It is quite mind boggling when I think back to the great people we got to work with. Tim approached us after hearing our first EP. He really seemed to keep his finger on the musical pulse that was going on at the time. He had also worked with Lush so was obviously into our type of bands. Not sure how Gil got on board. Maybe from hearing Ferment? Or maybe producers would just peruse the music weeklies and see who was flavour of the month? I liked Gil a lot. A true scouser. Bob Ezrin was a colleague of GGGarth Richardson who we were using on Adam And Eve and I think GGGarth got Bob interested which turned into a role of executive producer! 
We started working with Storm from Chrome onwards. Again, I am not sure how we came to work with him. I was just the mere bass player! But it was clear he was a genius and I thoroughly enjoyed working with him. For the Chrome cover he asked the four of us to come up with our own ideas of how we wanted our pictures to be included in the artwork. None of us knew what he had in mind but on the day of my shoot I said to him I didn’t want my picture included but rather a reflection. It was then he told be about his swimming pool cover and he was ecstatic about my choice. Pure luck on my part! 
There were some arguments between Storm and Rob or Storm and Merck or Rob and Merck about the tiniest of details which would drive most of us mad but it was a testament to the creative genius of which each individual held their art. Storm released a “Best Album Cover” (1999’s “Eye of the Storm – The Album Graphics of Storm Thorgerson” from Sanctuary Publishing), book some years ago which he goes into detail about making the cover for Adam And Eve which makes interesting reading. Nearly WW3 started over whether to use a border on the cover on not!!

JB: Why did the Nick Hornby book ‘High Fidelity’ (1995 published work by Victor Gollancz Ltd), have such an impression on the making of A&E?

DH: I just remember Rob was reading that book prior to A and E and obviously it made an impression on him. I have never read it and have no idea what it is about! 

JB: With Ferment and Chrome being repressed, is there any discussion/possibility of A&E, Happy Days, Like Cats & Dogs being reissued eventually? (Note: the latter two have been/will be reissued this year). Would love to see an expanded reissue of Like Cats and Dogs! 

DH: I have not heard anything about those albums being reissued. To be honest, when I got asked permission for Ferment and Chrome I had no idea these were even being considered as releases. Maybe an email to Music On Vinyl would garner more info?

JB: Seeing that you brought it up, what would you classify as your top 5 or top 10 records of all time? Anything you are listening to now that perhaps is not well-known?

DH: My Top 10 albums in no particular order:

Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures (1979 LP on Factory Records)
Joy Division: Closer (1980 posthumous LP on Factory Records)
The Damned: Black Album (1980 LP on Chiswick)
Crass: Feeding The 5000 (1979 LP on Crass Records)
Sex Pistols: Never Mind The Bollocks (1977 LP on Virgin Records)
House Of Love: House Of Love (1st album) (1988 LP on Creation Records)
Lou Reed: Berlin (1973 LP on RCA Records)
Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man (1988 LP on Columbia Records)
Mary Margaret O’Hara: Miss America (1988 LP on Virgin Records)
Human League: Dare (1981 LP on Virgin Records_/_A&M)

There is very little “new” music I listen to just because I don’t go out of my way looking for it. When I’m in the car I mainly listen to NPR (public radio). But I do really like Future Islands and my girlfriend wanted to see The Arkells the other night (who were very good), but I liked the opening act, Irontom. Been playing their stuff ever since.

JB: We spoke a little about the band’s transition from record to record. In regards to A&E, was the band intentionally associating with Tim Friese-Greene to capture a latter-day Talk Talk sound or was that incidental? A&E marked a huge transition from Happy Days, so even though you were not the main songwriter, what were you aware of as far as composition/sound ideas for the LP? That was the most dramatic change the band made from album to album because you could see a natural progression from Ferment to Chrome to Happy Days. Then this magnificent LP in Adam & Eve was released with seemingly no obvious relationship to its predecessor. 

DH: I was the loner in the band when it came to Talk Talk. I never knew their stuff that much (except the “hits”), but Rob, Brian and Neil were huge fans and were obviously overjoyed when Tim approached us to record Ferment. Their latter day albums such as “The Colour Of Spring” (1985 on EMI) and “Laughing Stock” (1991 on Polydor_/_Verve) were on high rotation on the tour bus! In regards to A&E, the fact Tim played keyboards on songs like “Thunderbird” makes it hard not to conjour up Talk Talk. That is the only song I get that vibe from though. But in hindsight that may have been the start of the road Rob wanted to go down and I recall from when we were rehearsing what was to become “Wishville” that I voiced my opinion we were veering too much into Talk Talk territory. Maybe that was the beginning of the end for me!

JB: Delving into the band’s live shows, I can attest without hesitation that the band was one of the most powerful and emotionally-moving bands I ever saw, (remember that gig in Cleveland at the Odeon? We drove in a blinding snow storm from Canada the night before to Ohio to see you guys again!). What are some of your recollections playing live? Were you guys aware of how blindingly great you were live? Did you get any feedback from your peers at the time about your shows?

DH: Playing live was the most thrilling aspect of the band for me. When I look at some live stuff on YouTube (especially “Waydown” era and beyond), I truly think “Wow, we were pretty damn good!” Something I don’t think I appreciated at the time. We kind of went about it in a workman-like fashion. Get on stage, do a good job, then on to the next city. The biggest compliment I got was from ex-*Madness* (and Voice Of The Beehive) drummer, Woody (Daniel Woodgate). He was playing in a band called Fat and they did a short support tour with us circa 1993? And I remember sitting in the Sheffield Leadmill and he asked me if I would consider playing for Madness who were going to reform! I actually walked around the city for a while considering it. 

JB: When you mentioned Radiohead being a thorn in the band’s side, was it a matter of being constantly compared to them even though both bands are completely separate entities?  Kind of like the whole Beatles or (Rolling) Stones argument that completely misses the point? I will never forget the simpleton who claimed CW sounded like Bush. Are you kidding me?!

DH: Bush? Kate Bush maybe! We had no ill feeling towards Radiohead. They supported us very early on in 1991 and we got on great. But, yes, the continuous comparisons wore a little thin.

JB: Do you consider Ferment to be a shoegaze record? Why/why not?

DH: I’m not big on pigeon-holing bands and/or albums but I’m happy with Ferment being classified as a shoegaze album. It’s cited often enough in top shoegaze albums so it has to be, right? (Tongue firmly in cheek!). I get where the term came from; bands statue-like on stage, heads down trying to step on the right guitar pedal through the dark and dry ice! We were never like that live but on record, Ferment, has it’s feet in the shoegaze genre, I suppose. 

JB: Finally, how did the band settle on the name “Catherine Wheel”? Were there other band names being floated around at the time?

DH: Well my recollection is this but the others may differ. We would rehearse in this guy’s garage on a Sunday afternoon and it was a warm Summer’s day and Rob walked in with a bottle of water and on the bottle was “St Catherine’s”. And he came up with the name Catherine Wheel. We immediately liked it mainly because there were so many bands with one syllable monikers: Ride, Blur, Lush, Moose, etc. So it stuck! I wish I could say it was something as dark as calling ourselves after a medieval torture device but it was after a bottle of water! The following week we spent rehearsal time stencilling our equipment with the new band name. In hindsight, it would have been a lot quicker and less spray paint if we had decided on a one word name!!