I got to do an email interview with Gordon out of Terminal Cheescake while he was on tour with The Cosmic Dead as Russell’s glamorous stunt double (“Well, that’s how I’ve climbed to the dizzy heights of the music industry: by replacing Russells”).
Some of it ran in NARC.Magazine but there was lots more, so here’s the Director’s Cut
For people of a certain age, Terminal Cheesecake are legends, flying the flag for truly fucked up psychedelic noise in the late eighties / early nineties with mindwarping albums like Angels In Pigtails and King Of All Spaceheads. For some of us, they felt like this country’s answer to the Butthole Surfers and they were magnificent. They ground to a halt more than 20 years ago, so when the first rumblings emerged of a TC reunion, our collective synapses twitched.
The band have the kind of family tree that would have foxed Pete Frame, and members who’ve also been in such notable outfits as Skullflower, Ice, Head Of David and M/A/R/R/S, “Russ (Smith, guitar) is one of the originals (even though I’m on one track from the first album) and we were both in TC together (him guitar, me bass) around Angels In Pigtails times. Happy days! Then I switched to guitar for Pearlesque, Gateau and Spaceheads until I finally dropped out, some time in ’95… John Jobbagy (drums) was there right from the start, being in both The Vibes and The Purple Things with Gary Boniface pre-TC. He played on Bladdersack, Johnny Town Mouse and VCL, but was off doing other stuff (like Ice with Dave Cochrane, Justin Broadrick and Kev Martin) by the time I joined.”
So the short version of the reunion was that guitarist Russ Smith was the prime mover and talked John and Gordon into giving it another shot. “The how and why are both Russ. He was very keen on getting a new TC version together and he’s been the prime mover behind all of it. He got in touch with everyone and talked most of the more reluctant of us into it. The Cheesecake line-up has always been so fluid that he had plenty of ex-members to choose from! A few notable mainstays that Russ invited just didn’t want to be a part of it or couldn’t commit the time were Mick Parkin (original bassist), Fez (long-tem bassist) and Gary Boniface (original singer). Their view was similar to Bacon and Bungay‘s brazen head: “Time was”. Gary was always a major force in Cheesecake and I didn’t want to take part in the new version without him at all at first but, once persuaded, I’m so happy that I said yes. I love playing in Cheesecake!”
How did Dave Cochrane get involved? “See above, really. The connection was cemented in Ice but he was a mate anyway and well-respected from his stints in Head Of David and Sweet Tooth. When Russ couldn’t persuade any original bassist to re-join, we asked Dave.” And Neil (Francis, vocals)? “OK, well… original singer Gary didn’t want to join in the re-started TC and around that time I saw Gnod for the first time in a tiny, dark, sweaty basement in East London (Power Lunches). I was blown away by them and particularly impressed with the total abandon of their singer. Afterwards, I started to realise that Neil’s style – with loads of echo/delay – was really similar to Gary’s so I just found his email address and asked him to give it a go… He agreed and it worked out beautifully!”
It feels like the underground scene has rarely been healthier, and Terminal Cheesecake seem to have reappeared at just the right time in a scene that bears at least some of their DNA. “Yeah, the scene’s great, isn’t it? And it feels as though it includes more forms than the rock form. There are artists from many traditions, side-by-side, in a scene that’s not very genre-bound. People tour, meet up, get on, start to be friends, suggest collaborations, help each other out with shows. That’s how it works. What I’m seeing is a scene that’s not a clique. Every time we get on with folk and they’re a bangin’ band or artist then we include them and coalesce into a single unit.”
Watson is uncomfortable with the term ‘veterans’ however. “We wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to say that we’ve been influential or that others have caught up. We’ve always created without compromise, though, and continue to do so but I think plenty of others have always done that too. We haven’t been bothered by being ignored except by a tiny number of well-informed people – that’s always been the case. We’ve never sought approval in the past and don’t now. We definitely feel part of a community. Years ago it felt more competitive. Now, that’s not the case – and there’s nothing to compete for, anyway! “
For a long-term fan like myself, seeing TC play amazing shows to large, receptive audiences is positively life-affirming, almost vindicating. “Thanks for saying that and of course we are blown away. I know Russ, Neil, John and Dave love to see people enjoying themselves. Personally, I have quite a bit of imposter syndrome, so I try to keep my head down and not look at the audience during a set. I find them quite intimidating. Any positive reinforcement really helps us to keep going. I’ll take that as a compliment :)”
But this is no cash-cow reunion trip, as their first ‘comeback’ album Dandelion Sauce Of The Ancients made very clear. “Absolutely! One of our guiding principles is that our new music shouldn’t be an exercise in nostalgia. I’m glad you liked Dandelion Sauce. We’ve finished another album that’s darker than the last one. We went to record in rural Wales with Wayne (Adams, Bear Bites Horse). Being away from London gave us the chance to experiment, improvise and go deep. I’m really, really happy with it. It’s a hare-themed album that’s coming out on Box Records, probably in March 2019, and we’ve got a split coming up as well. We also have some archive material that people might find interesting but we’ll be making that available by download and not really promoting it. Several labels have suggested reissuing the older albums. We might do that if everything aligns properly with ex-members. You can still get them on discogs, folks!”
With you and Russ in Melting Hand and TC (and Neil, sometimes), is it ever a problem to decide whether something you’ve written belongs to one or the other, or don’t you work like that?
“Mostly, writing is done in the context of one band or another. So, we know it’s going to be for that band. Each different line-up has its distinct characteristics and the spontaneous composition method that TC uses is at the opposite end the scale to the highly composed tunes of Luminous Bodies. However, you’re right that sometimes a tune will make the rounds! A good example of that is something I wrote a few years ago that’s been recorded (and rejected) by both TC and MH. Then, after combining it with a riff Tom Fug has been trying to use for many years, it’s become one of the best tracks on the new Luminous Bodies album. That’ll also be on Box and out around June 2019.”