Mike Robbo Interviews The Paddingtons upon their return to the stage, where they support The Libertines this Saturday at Hull Arena…
I arrive early to meet The Paddingtons. Pave. A balmy Thursday evening in August. It’s been pissing it down for most of the month, but it holds off for us. To my surprise, they’re already there. It’s even more of a surprise given the lurid stories that unfold. Well, songwriters Tom Atkin (vocals), Lloyd Dobbs (bass) and Martin Hines (Marv, guitar) are, along with Dave Gawthorpe, who is so fascinated by the stories that literally spew forth over the next 140 minutes, that he stays for the duration.
It’s time to tell the tale of The Padds.
We’ll start with the here and now. The Paddingtons are getting back together to support The Libertines on the Hull leg of their Tiddely Om Pom Pom Tour in the Autumn. The call came from Carl Barât’s manager, via their old manager, Nathan Leeks, who then started a group chat on Facebook and asked if they’d be up for it. The fuck they would! The Libertines made them pick up guitars and become a band in the first place. They’d bonded over Oasis, who pricked their interest, marvelled at The Strokes, who they saw as ‘superstars,’ but The Libs were the ones who gave them the push they needed to actually take it to the world. The fact that they’d become great mates left them with little doubt that the time was right to get back onstage and show us what we’ve been missing.
Apparently Carl was behind the request, but Pete would have been behind it in some way. The call came as a shock as they didn’t think they were still even on their radar, so it was a huge honour and a touching gesture to be invited. They jumped at the chance, and on 23rd September 2017, they will, once again, share a stage with their old mentors and friends.
We’re here to talk about the past, the present and the future, and it will take over two packs of fags, numerous beers and 140 minutes of recording that I’ll have to sift through, so I suggest we step out the back. It’s about to get boisterous, as memories come flooding back, and once they get started, there’s no stopping them.
It’s a classic tale of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery, populated with such fantastic characters as Welsh Pete, Johnny Headlock, Ali Valium, Texas Bob and Scarborough Steve. And it’s a fucking fascinating ride.
Let’s go back…
The story started back in the late 90s, when Lloyd and Tom would run into each other at after-parties, you know the kind, the ones where good times are in plentiful supply, and inhibitions are left at the door. They bonded over a shared love of Oasis, although Tom was more of an Ian Brown fan, particularly his Golden Greats album. They became firm mates, and along with Lloyd’s brother, powerhouse sticksman, Grant, Marv and Tom’s schoolmate Josh Hubbard (guitar), became a gang. Like all the best bands are. If you think of the best bands over the course of history; The Stones, The Jam, The Clash, The Stone Roses, Oasis, The Strokes and The Libertines, they were all gangs, they were all greater than the sum of their parts, and you get the impression they’d all die for each other. It’s what elevates a band from being merely a good band to being a great one. The Paddingtons were definitely of this lineage; that was their allure. Back then, they’d tell people back at these shindigs that they were in a band, when in truth they were just a tight-knit group of mates. When people started to question them, they thought, ‘fuck, we’d better get some equipment then.’ And The Paddingtons were born.
They were The Codheads first, but settled on the name, The Paddingtons in reference to Grant’s big duffle coat. Lloyd’s at pains to mention the ‘big brown kebab stains’ on his brother’s coat. Tom and Grant had been to see The Libs in Liverpool, and met Pete who gave them all guest list for the next night in Nottingham. It was this where they had their epiphany.
They assigned each other roles first. Lloyd was on guitar first with Marv on bass, but on Marv’s insistence, they swapped; Lloyd remembers owning a ‘small, headless, 80s-style bass at first,’ before he could afford a more practical one. Tom was on vocals. He describes himself as an ‘introverted exhibitionist’ due to his nerves, so it was a brave step to volunteer for frontman. Grant was the natural choice for drummer; he’s a massive-sounding percussionist with an equally massive personality, and Josh, with his abrasive playing and insouciant cool, slotted in on guitar, completing the classic line-up.
When they first started, there was no grand plan, they were buoyed by the relative ease that mentors, The Strokes and The Libs applied to their creations, and just thought, ‘they’re getting paid for that?! We’ll have some o’ that!’ So, they made their first tentative steps towards the big-time. As young bucks on the scene, they were viewed as upstarts, as is the rite of passage. Rivalries over girls obviously played a small part, but generally they got along with most of their peers. The Strokes had made the old guard obsolete though, so, just as their idols had smashed the doors down at the dawn of the new millennium, they were here to smash the doors down and lead a new charge. From Hull.
They liked getting up the establishment’s nose, and as they left a trail of debris and broken hearts across flats and squats in HU5, where they performed guerrilla gigs, they realized that they were fucking good. They used to rehearse in Tom’s dad’s warehouse before they got thrown out for spray-painting their name across the walls, in a cheeky nod to The Clash and The Roses. They gigged relentlessly, playing the nascent Sesh regularly, as Mark Page, head honcho, began bringing the unconnected music scenes together. They famously played The Adelphi four times in a week, volunteering for as many slots as they could as they honed their craft.
Their first out-of-town gig came in Scarbourough’s Cazbar, where a guy called Scarborough Steve, who was in an early incarnation of The Libertines chanced upon seeing them and introduced himself. Soon after, Tom received a phone call at his mum’s house.
‘Tom, phone’s for you.’
‘Tell ‘em I’m asleep.’ He rolled over.
‘It’s someone called Peter, he says it’s urgent.’
‘I don’t know anyone called Peter. Fuck’s sake. Hello…’
‘Hi it’s Peter,’ came the voice at the other end of the phone.
‘Pete Doherty, from The Lib…’
‘Fuck off…no way!’
It was the most exciting thing ever, Tom says. He was ringing to ask them to play with The Libs at a basement flat in Gunter Grove, just off the King’s Road in Chelsea.
The place is steeped in punk rock history, being at the epicentre of the punk rock scene. Public Image Limited were formed literally doors away from where they were to play. As they approached, hundreds of revellers were snaking around the block, queuing to get in. The lads walked past them, straight to the front, like the naughty young northerners they were, most of them teenagers still, and into the flat.
I ask if they were daunted by the prospect.
‘In the end, we didn’t play, it got raided,’ laughs Lloyd, ‘but we stayed and partied. We didn’t have time to be daunted, we were flying by the seats of our pants.’
And what went on at the party?
‘Everything you’d expect,’ says Tom. ‘And more, haha. We were so young that it didn’t faze us really. If we’d have been older and more aware of the dangers, it probably would have, but we just watched, and it was quite exciting.’
More London experiences followed, with them supporting Scarborough Steve’s band in a squat in King’s Cross, where they had to get their gear in through a hole. While they were waiting to play, some Portuguese punks started jacking smack in front of them. They felt out of their depth, but there was no danger, just junkies getting out of it. They played the gig, and got a taste of the grot ‘n’ roll scene that Doherty was part of, and they were hooked. On the experience.
‘It opened our eyes to things we’d never seen before,’ states Lloyd. ‘It scared us a bit, but it was also fascinating. We just ignored it really and played it cool. All there was, was smack. We spray-painted ‘THE PADDINGTONS’ on the wall in there, and you could see it for years later if you were passing on the bus,’ he laughs.
Not long after, the mercurial Alan McGee caught them at a gig with The Libs at about 3am, and enthused to them, as is his custom, and told them he wanted to sign them and put something out. So, they signed to his Poptones label, and he wanted them to release the demo of 21. The band said no, which was quite brave in such a situation, and re-recorded it with the advance and put it out as a double-A side with Some Old Girl.
It went to number 47 in the charts with absolutely no promo.
Take a minute to let that sink in. The rapidity of how all this happened is quite astonishing.
Poptones was a feeder label to Mercury, so naturally after this, hordes of A&R people came sniffing about, and they signed. For 150 grand.
Then everything changed.
It was serious business now, and you get the sense it was like the Pistols’ famous signing outside Buckingham Palace. As they signed with lawyers in Kensington, they were all laughing, all refreshed and not really getting the gravity of what they were doing. They’d come so far. In such a short time. And they were still really young.
Now there were about twenty people in the entourage. Pluggers. Publicists. Press Officers. It was too big a job for their Hull-based manager to handle, so they went about the task of interviewing managers.
‘It was hilarious, we were pissing ourselves. Us, interviewing all these suited-up managers,’ laughs Lloyd. ‘It was all day long, just getting pissed. In the end, I ended up chasing our manager-to-be, down Tottenham Court Road to tell him he’d got the job. Purely because he was so generous that day.’ He flashes a knowing smile.
They’d not yet stepped into the real world as people, yet here they were doing grown-up stuff like negotiating with sober-looking professionals. Next, they had to put another single out, and record an album. Keep up momentum.
Enter Owen Morris…
The prodigious Welsh producer can possibly be credited with pulling their first album out of them. By any means necessary. It was quite a trip by all accounts. Known for his hedonistic behaviour equally as much as his technical skills, being at the helm of Oasis’ first three albums, Ash’s first three albums and The Verve’s majestic A Northern Soul album. The chaotic single and debut album sessions are the stuff of legend. Recorded in Hastings, the First Things First sessions nearly hospitalised Lloyd. Marv was sent home by Morris.
‘He gave me 300 quid and just said, “get on the train, Marv.” And that was that. He’d ruined me.’
In almost Martin Hannett-esque displays of megalomania, he set his stall out from the beginning:
‘He found out from the word go that I was the songwriter,’ explains Lloyd. ‘So he started challenging me. He’d deliberately leave me out of everything. He’d say things like, “this song’s shit. Fuck off and go write a fucking chorus in another room and don’t come back ‘til you have.” It worked though, gotta give him credit.’
‘There was one night where he had all these CD cases of seminal bands, and he asked us if we liked them. “Do you like Led Zeppelin, boys?” And we’d reply “yeah, they’re ok.” And he’d just fling ‘em at a wall and say, “shit!” He even got to The Pistols and did the same, and we were like, “nah nah, can’t do that, mate,” but he didn’t give a shit. He was mental.’
‘There was all sorts going on in there,’ continues Marv. ‘He made me watch The Good, The Bad and The Ugly twice in one sitting ‘cos he liked the soundtrack. Why? I don’t know. Just to fuck with our heads probably, but it was his way. He was creating this mad asylum-like environment, and ludicrously, it brought the best out in us.’
Marv goes on. ‘There was one night where he reckoned my guitar parts sounded tinny, and we couldn’t get it right. We were up all night just me and him and in the end he brought me a bottle of gin and said, “drink that Marv, all of it.” So I did, then did it again. He recorded it, goes, “that’s the one. Go to bed, Marv,” and shoved me out. My room was next to his and I heard him moaning, “Marv, Marv” deep into the morning. Fuck knows what he was doing in there.’
‘He’d be at the controls with this girl on his knee, and he’d just lean, puke in a bin next to him,’ laughs Tom. ‘Then just continue as if it was the most normal thing ever. “Come on boys! Another take!” It was like an asylum. He’d lock me in the booth and force me to do my vocals and I’d be screaming. Screams of fear almost. Then he’d unlock the door and just go, “session’s over, get to bed.”’
The insanity of the sessions can probably be credited with the resulting album. Somehow, out of the disorder came an amazing record. A product of its environment. The energy definitely comes across on the record.
‘And this was Morris away on holiday, away from his wife and kids,’ says Lloyd. ‘We were entering a madhouse, and it was his party time. I’m not sure there was any method to his madness, whether it was intended to rub off on our playing, but it fucking worked, I’ll give him that.’
On the release date, Lloyd’s girlfriend, Kerry told him he was going to be a dad. On the same day, they played a gig outside HMV in Hull, then bombed off to Derby for a gig on the night. From then on, it was single/tour/album/tour as they gigged relentlessly. The venues got bigger. They were in their prime. They did 200 gigs with almost no days off. If there wasn’t a gig on, they’d be lost, so they got on it anyway.
It was around this time that Marv seriously injured his hand on a night out in Hull, slashing it so badly that he was unable to play on their forthcoming tour in support of the first album. Disaster seemed to strike, but a friend of the band stepped up and came to the rescue so the tour could go ahead.
They’d known Stuee Bevan, or Stu La Page as he was then known, from being labelmates at Poptones. Kill City were the band that loaned them the guitarist, a band fronted by Camden staple, Lisa Moorish and the omnipresent Welsh Pete. They’d toured together with The Libertines and gelled instantly, becoming great friends, so Stu jumped at the chance. Lloyd remains extremely fond of the savior who stepped in in their hour of need, and due to Marv’s injury, he ended up filling in for two tours. He has fond memories of them driving across Europe, learning the songs in the back of the van. He instantly became one of the boys and a close bond was formed. Marv returned when he was able to play, but they remain firm mates to this day.
‘There were so many shows,’ remarks Lloyd. ‘The crowds were going wild every night. We were bang on, tight as fuck. A year of mad touring. Playing became second nature, we developed this kind of, telepathy, and just got out there and did it every night.’
They came back off tour as conquering heroes. They missed life on the road, so just carried on as if they were on tour, going to see mates’ bands, just carrying on the party. When they played intimate gigs in Hull, it was more nerve-wracking. It was harder playing to a few mates than it was playing to thousands of unknowns.
‘You’d go onstage at Brixton Academy,’ asserts Lloyd. ‘You’d get the nerves. It was ‘lights off/walk on/lights on’ and you’d see five thousand people and you’d be shitting it. Then you’d see everyone going for it and you’d be foot on the monitor, “come on!” But back in Hull, we did deliberately small gigs. We’d do matinees in Ringside, and it’d be mobbed, and the real nerves would come.’
They concede that the music, whilst very good, wasn’t reinventing the wheel. It was the way they played it that took it to a different place. The album sold well. They shifted albums simply by turning up and putting on great shows. The old-fashioned way. They were lucky in the fact that they caught the back-end of the time when people actually bought physical copies of records, and it worked in their favour. Physical sales mattered in a way they don’t now.
For a while, they had the world at their feet. Notoriously hard to please NME stalwart Mark Beaumont lavished them with superlatives, their album got almost unanimously positive reviews, the shows were getting bigger. They modelled for Dior, dated supermodels and attended all the right parties. They got tighter and played all over the world. They invariably forgot what day it was as they were trotted around the globe in a frenzy of high-octane, thrill-seeking madness. One day they’d be in Japan, next day doing a TV show in Milan, Turkey, Germany, Spain, Pete Doherty’s 30th birthday party in London. They barely paused for breath.
‘Occasionally, you’d come up for breath,’ remembers Marv. ‘To enjoy a little moment. Otherwise it was ‘heads down,’ going for it. Do a gig. Have a party. Different backdrops every day.’
Then second album syndrome hit.
There’s a general consensus that the break they took between albums one and two was too long.
‘We pushed songs through we didn’t really believe in. We lost a bit of momentum,’ rues Tom. ‘I’m still really pleased with half the songs on that album though.’
‘Yeah,’ remembers Marv. ‘For the first album we were winging it, nervous energy propelling us through it, partying our way through it. The second album was us trying to be like professional musicians. But we left it too long.’
It was a totally different experience, recording the second album. The enlisted the services of Tony Doogan, best known for his work with Mogwai and Belle and Sebastian, who imposed a strict no-booze rule on recordings, going so far as to halt the day’s session if he could smell booze on the band.
‘Try telling five young lads in a band, in Glasgow, not to drink,’ laughs Grant. ‘It was mad up there. In Scotland, if they’re with you, they’re really with you, willing you on. It wasn’t conducive to the conditions we had to record under.’
However, the album did well, albeit not as well as the debut. ‘NME gave it a 6/10,’ remembers Lloyd. ‘It read like a 7, but they were pushing someone else at the time, so it was given a 6. We learned all about editorial politics. The first album was supposed to get an 8/10 in one mag, but they were pushing Franz Ferdinand, so it was ‘trimmed’ to a 7.’
They have fond memories of the second album tour, but by the time they were to record their final EP, The Ladyboy Tapes, there was a different mood.
‘We were all in weird places,’ bemoans Tom. ‘The bond wasn’t as strong. We’d pretty much broken up before we came to record The Ladyboy Tapes. We all had girlfriends, we were off doing our own things. The gang mentality had been diluted.’ Marv had all but left the band and they recalled old mate Stuee to fill in on guitar duties on their final EP release. They remember looking within the Hull scene for a replacement guitarist, but in the end, Stu was in; it was a no-brainer. In fact, Lloyd says, Stu was a key factor in wanting to push forward, as there was a feeling that they’d come to the end as a functioning band after Marv left to pursue other musical interests.
Looking back on it all, and indeed forward to the future, the band have no regrets. They are visibly emotional when talking about the history of The Padds, the stories are told with passion and feeling. I ask what they think made them popular, what made them the band, the last band to break out of Hull and have national, and indeed global success.
‘Well, we just had that rare quality that you don’t knowingly try to cultivate, I guess,’ offers Lloyd. ‘We had that gang mentality, and I think Alan McGee saw some kind of indie boy-band thing in us. It was the right place, right time thing. We didn’t try to be what we ended up as, it just happened organically. Being from Hull also really helped. We used to big up Hull in every interview. I remember we did a photo shoot outside Buckingham Palace, and it was all the bands from that London grot ‘n’ roll scene. There was Babyshambles, Razorlight, The Others, Special Needs, and us. The journalist assumed we were from London and was charmed by the fact we were from Hull. Remember Hull was a ‘crap town’ then,’ he laughs.
‘We were kind of lumped in with the London scene because of lazy journalism really,’ adds Marv. ‘We were considered part of that scene because we were mates with Babyshambles. It was really supportive, cosy environment though. Being mates with Pete didn’t hurt. We bonded through The Libs, but by the time we were ready, they were in decline and Babyshambles were on the ascendant. And they kind of spearheaded that scene.’
Would they like to be a young band starting out today, in 2017?
Would they like to be a young band starting out today, in 2017?
‘No,’ says Grant emphatically. ‘It’s a totally different culture now. The concept of the album as a whole is dead. It’s a disposable world we live in now, you’ll hear a song on the radio, buy it, bin it and forget about it.’
‘It’s a kind of ‘trash-can’ culture these days, isn’t it?’ adds Marv. ‘Everything’s disposable. There’s way more out there, but it’s become more linear. Thinner.’
‘The cult of personality is more important these days,’ chips in Lloyd. ‘Grime is the new punk rock, because it has larger than life characters, and that’s fine. We caught it at the right time. From the 60s to the 00s, it was pretty much the same model, but now the way we digest music is totally different.
They’re genuinely excited about the forthcoming gigs. As well as supporting The Libertines, they’ll play an intimate gig at The Adelphi on 21st September, two days before the big one.
Are they nervous? What have rehearsals been like?
‘I’m a nervous person generally,’ replies Tom. ‘But as soon as we got in that room, we got locked in almost immediately. It was a bit rusty for the first couple, but we rediscovered that chemistry really quickly, and we thought, ‘yeah, we’re really fucking good at this!’ Personally, I think I’m better now. I know how to use my voice more as I’ve matured.’
‘Not nervous. It’s exciting,’ confirms Marv. ‘I’m standing there with my head in the speaker, listening to Grand, who’s a big-sounding drummer, and I’m getting lost, as I’m watching Tom prowling around the studio. It’s gonna be great.’
‘When I think of ice arena, all I can think of is 100,000 people,’ laughs Grant. ‘Last time I was there, it just seemed so massive. I think it was Oasis. It’ll have been 2002. I think it’s about 3 or 4,000 though, and that’s still huge. I just want to get in the same room as Doherty, he owes us 2 grand, haha.’
‘Well every time I ask him (Tom), he says ‘no’,’ jokes Lloyd. ‘So it’s good his head’s finally in it. We might do some more gigs, maybe write something together again, who knows?’ For now, it’s a big gig, with old mates who we respected and who gave us a platform to do what we wanted to do, so we’re just really buzzing for it.’
Hull’s buzzing for it too, it’d seem. The call has brought Grant out of retirement, got Tom back performing, so that, in itself, is nothing short of miraculous. We’ll get to see them right some wrongs too; it irks them that at the firework display, announcing Hull, City of Culture 2017, they were the only Hull band not to have a snippet of music played in the montage, so you get the feeling there’s a score to settle there. And there’s nothing more exciting than unlocking a cage to a group of hungry tigers. I, for one, can’t wait.
Thanks to Darren Rogers for the images. Follow his work here: http://drogersocular.wixsite.com/d-rogers-ocular-art