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[INTERVIEW] THE TROGGS

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The Troggs

For music nerds with a lot of time on their hands, the origins of punk are a topic of fierce debate. Entry-level rock historians would immediately think of The Ramones or The Sex Pistols at the utterance of the p-word. Some Aussies would argue Brisbane’s The Saints got the jump on The Sex Pistols, but perhaps not the infamy. Those a little longer in the tooth would recall the influence of Iggy and the Stooges, MC5 and The Fugs, all from 1960’s in the USA, as the catalyst for punk.

However, across the Atlantic, there existed another punk progenitor. From the quaint English countryside came The Troggs, who stood out with Reg Presley’s gravelly yowl and guitarist Chris Britton’s love of distortion.

“I don’t know why I wanted to play guitar. I just liked the sound of it, I think,” recalls the gently spoken Britton. “Rock and roll hadn’t been invented yet when I was eight or nine years old.” Britton was fortunate to have a guitar teacher who shared a similar enthusiasm for the new sound. Although a septuagenarian, Britton still retains a wide-eyed and youthful zeal for those musicians who gave us rock. In his view, the world before rock and roll existed was “very strange”.

“I remember being absolutely knocked out when I was about twelve years old, and they played the Chuck Berry record, Sweet Little Sixteen. That was amazing. [At] the school I went to, a young American kid came along when I was about thirteen or fourteen. He had all his American records, and I’d wander to his house, and we spent hours listening to his collection. None of this American rock and roll had ever really come to England.”

While the English were a few years behind the Americans, it was only a matter of time before they formed their response. With guitar distortion and shouted vocals central to the sound, English rock was dirtier, confrontational and more aggressive.

“It was a sort of revolutionary attitude,” Britton puts it. “We had a slightly more aggressive attitude to music. Whereas the Americans are laid-back about everything, aren’t they?” adds Britton with a hint of irony. “They had the laid-back American attitude, to begin within rock and roll, but the English expression was more in your face and aggressive.” When asked if such an approach was an affront to the establishment and the upper classes, Britton lets out a grandfatherly chuckle. “Well, it certainly cut across the music scene at the time, things like How Much is That Doggy in the Window?

However, while Britton and his cohorts weren’t ashamed of a little dirt under their nails, they weren’t always snotty. “You couldn’t exactly say Love is All Around and Whatever You Want were punk songs? Behind it, we’re quite gentle in some ways,” laughs Britton. Apart from occasionally using string sections (bluntly described as ‘fairy dust’ in the notorious Troggs Tapes), dirty guitars remain at the heart of The Troggs’ sound.

The sixties were an exciting time for anyone with an electric guitar. “In a way, it’s like the guitar is trying to turn into the violin because the violin has a long sustained note for as long as you want to keep the bow going,” he says. “Once you got the distortion in there, it gave it a nice extended tone, and you could make a bit more variety of noise.”

Getting the right sound was achieved by any means necessary, no matter how primitive. “We were trying all sorts of ways to get it. You’d snip the speaker cone so that the speaker vibrated, just to give it a bit of buzz. Anything was better than a nice, clean, pure sound.” For Britton, the appeal of distortion was the ability to tame it. “You can just wave the guitar in front of the speaker, and you get all sorts of things happening. It’s just wonderful. It’s so unpredictable; you never get the same solo twice.”

For over fifty years The Troggs have remained a quartet, with Britton remaining as the sole original member. When original vocalist Reg Presley left the band due to lung cancer in 2012 and eventually passed away, the band was on the verge of giving up even though he insisted they continue.

“We thought there might be a chance of just doing it as a three piece with the three of us doing the vocals, but none of us had a powerful enough voice even to come close to doing it”, admits Britton. After deciding to audition singers, Chris Allen turned out to be a perfect fit. “He was the one we got on with best as a bloke, he knew the songs and got straight into it. He’s worked really well. We weren’t looking for a ‘Reg placement’, he doesn’t look a bit like him, he doesn’t even sound like him. He’s his own vocalist with his own style; he’s not trying to be a ‘Reg copy’ or anything.”

Having witnessed rock and roll in its nascence, Britton has seen its evolution over many decades. For better or worse, the role of the internet has changed the face of music. Young bands are finding it hard to get a break. Is it possible the next Wild Thing has already been written, but we simply won’t get a chance to hear it?

“I think there’s a possibility of that. The difficulty of nowadays compared to how it was back in the sixties, for a start, is there are far more kids trying to get into it. There are a lot more bands around now than when we were getting around. The whole thing was very new then. Even the managers and agents and accountants were trying to find a way to make it work because it was a completely new branch of music that was developing and going on.”

“The whole scene has been taken over by the accountancy side of things rather than being driven by the musician side of things,” he continues. “There’s been so much change. Times are a lot different now to how they were when we started out.”

Despite all the changes, songs like Wild Thing, With a Girl Like You and I Can’t Control Myself have all stood the test of time. Even when they weren’t writing music, influencing pop culture came naturally to The Troggs. On The Troggs Tapes, their expletive-laden diatribes against one another in the studio became the stuff of legend. Such invective provided inspiration for Spinal Tap and the notorious Derek and Clive.

Ever the English gentleman, Britton bears no grudges for being captured on tape unawares. “We thought it was hilarious! We didn’t know it had been recorded, honestly! We were driven to go up to the studio by the management because they wanted another single and we hadn’t gotten one ready to do.”

“Reg had this vague idea to do a song called Tranquillity, believe it or not,” Britton reveals with his distinct chuckle. “Whereas we knew we’d usually go to someone’s bedroom or garage to do a record and rehearsal and argue and shout about how things were gonna be done and get it all sorted out, so when we got to the studio it was all done and dusted, and you’d just play it.”

“They bootlegged it out to just about every record studio in London, and they used to play it to young, green bands who were coming in a bit nervous, and they’d say ‘you relax, this is how the pros do it!’ It was about six months before somebody played it to us and said ‘did you realise this is going around?’ It was just a hoot. We weren’t angry at all. Tranquillity couldn’t have been a more apt song”.

THE TROGGS AUSTRALIAN TOUR

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14 Nov, Brass Monkey, Cronulla, Australia

15 Nov, The Basement, Circular Quay, Australia

16 Nov, Lizotte’s, Newcastle, Australia

17 Nov, Blue Mountains Theatre, Springwood, Australia

18 Nov, The Entrance Leagues Club, Berkeley Vale, Australia

19 Nov, Revesby Workers Club, Sydney, Australia

20 Nov, The Bridge Hotel, Rozelle, Australia

24 Nov, Factory Theatre, Marrickville, Australia

25 Nov, The Tote, Collingwood Vic, Australia

26 Nov, The Palms at Crown, Melbourne, Australia

27 Nov, The Gov, Adelaide, Australia

29 Nov, Lizotte’s, Lambton, Australia

30 Nov, Cherry Bar, Melbourne, Australia

01 Dec, Oakleigh Caravan Music, Oakleigh, Australia

02 Dec, Karova Lounge, Ballarat, Australia

03 Dec, Barwon Club Hotel, South Geelong, Australia

www.thetroggs.co.uk

The Troggs Australian Tour

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