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These Babies Are Barking Mad, Alright!

(Taken From Black Velvet Issue 14 - Nov 97)

By Shari Black Velvet

I’ve never met a member of a punk rock n’ roll band who talks so lovingly about his own pets and animals in general as CJ of THE JELLYS. After periods in some of the coolest bands of their time - The Tattooed Love Boys, The Wildhearts and Honeycrack, CJ is currently 101% committed to his new band, The Jellys, a band whose inspiration is drawn from his pet dogs. I put on my Doctor Doolittle hat and purred down the phone (or something to that effect!) to the new frontman...







It was Nita’s fault! She told me CJ loved to talk about his dogs. As soon as that four-letter word was uttered by myself, CJ almost blew my head off with his chattering - like a parrot on Readybrek, he was off, answering my questions before I could even get two words in edgeways to ask them in the first place! CJ is actually an interviewer’s dream because you can literally sit there and just let him talk without having to say a word. Perhaps it was down to the fact that CJ had a cold and had "taken a lot of cold tablets". I dunno. Let’s listen anyway!

"If it wasn’t because of my dogs there wouldn’t have been The Jellys. I named The Jellys after my smallest dog Squirt’s love of Jelly Babies and jelly type sweets. If she liked Fruit Salads we’d have probably have been called The Fruit Salads!" he jests. Actually he’s probably deadly serious.

"Or Black Jacks. But she likes Jelly Babies. And the whole idea of The Jellys is to crucify Jelly Babies as well. A lot of my songs are about my dogs as well. I’ve got three dogs - there’s Squirt, there’s Chiwie and there’s Jacob. And they come in different sizes. Squirt’s the smallest, then Chiwie’s a medium sized Cross - they’re both Crosses, and then there’s Jacob, my German Shepherd. And I’m getting a Chihuahua next month. And they’ve all got songs about them. I’ve got a Chinchilla called Roxanne as well! And a budgie called Budge."

Hey, that last one’s got an imaginative name!

"They’ve all been used in songs. I’ve sampled their woofs and Roxanne, my Chinchilla, makes an amazing sound. She’s on a song called ‘Roxanne, The Punk Chinchilla’. And my budgie is actually singing on the end of one song and Squirt is barking in the distance."

Why only now use animals on your records?

"Because The Jellys is a band I formed and because I write everything. I can write about anything I want basically and most of The Jellys’ songs are about things I really love. I love my dogs and I’ve written a song about ice-cream because I love ice-cream. I love chocolate ice-cream but it didn’t rhyme so I called it ‘Strawberry Ice-Cream’ after my girlfriend’s favourite flavour.

"The songs are about all sorts of stupid things. Some of it’s serious as well but I wanted a band that made people smile and once they heard the music, it kind of makes them want to get up on their seat and dance. We’ve got quite a strong image as well. We wear quite a lot of eye shadow and eye liner and sometimes we wear grease paint and paint ourselves up like Jelly Babies! We all wear kipper ties and we’ve all got skinheads so it’s sort of a transvestite Buddhist Neo-Nazi look! It’s quite strange. It’s kind of an anti-image; it’s strong and no-one looks like us. I just wanted a band that was a bit unique. It’s all kind of punk rock, the whole thing, as well. It’s sort of a punk effort with pop melodies going over the top. It’s a combination of a number of things but things I really love."

Bet The Jellys’ videos are going to be really bizarre when they get around to doing them!

"One thing I love about music is that you can look so different to your everyday person on the street, or someone who’s got a day job. And I think it’s a crime not to exploit it. It’s almost like a gift. You can do things that are really wild. Getting Stidi and Jeff in the band, they can both play really well, but they’re also a couple of people who wouldn’t mind me experimenting with them. So when it comes to making videos I want it to be as colourful and outrageous, but not crude... just madness! Really over the top. It’s the same with pictures. Every photo session we do, we have a different image and the key thing is the kipper ties! No-one knows what we’re going to look like. I don’t know myself - I’ll see what I dream tonight!"

CJ says he normally dreams the images of the band. He thinks his dreams are quite crazy and he’s into the surreal edge. He’s captivated by anything unexplained like the occult and supernatural.

"Clive Barker’s my favourite novelist" he says. "His books are so wild. His imagination is so crazy and I like everything like that. I like things which are a bit off centre."

But CJ doesn’t take inspiration from what he reads. "If I did, all my stuff would be about horror stuff and fantasy stuff. It’s more what’s around me and what’s happening to me right now. There’s one song which is about a summertime five years ago but most of the songs are about what’s relevant in my life right now."

"I’ve actually written a song about the other guys in the band. It’s called ‘It’s Up To We’ and each verse is dedicated to each member of the band. It’s me describing them in a funny way. It pissed them off a bit when they heard each of their relevant verses but... it’s about what’s happening now. I’m not going to write a song about the sixties or the fifties. I wrote a song about the weekend just gone, it’s called ‘Pissed Off But We Don’t Care’ and I wrote that yesterday and it’s all about the In The City week which we were at."

In The City week took place in Glasgow with 60 bands taking part in a Battle Of The Band competition. This happens every year with bands from all over the UK travelling to the city. Past winners have included Kula Shaker and Placebo. It’s a competition for unsigned bands. The winner this year was a band going by the name of Tam.

"It was shocking for me to see 60 of the so-called best unsigned bands. I didn’t see them all but I heard them all on listening posts. There’s a CD which has 18 of the bands on there; 18 demos basically. I was shocked at the standard of a lot of the bands. I can put my hand on my heart and say I’ve seen local bands down here or bands opening up for us that pissed over the majority of the bands playing at that weekend. And they wouldn’t have a chance of getting in there purely because local bands haven’t got the management and the connections. There was a band that opened up for us in Bristol called Buster Friendly, who were totally amazing, and they would have wiped the floor with all those bands. Let’s hope they’ll be there next year. It was shocking for me to see how poor a lot of the bands were. There were second-hand Beck type bands! Beck without the humour and with real musicians playing it, and it doesn’t work. Beck’s real tongue-in-cheek. And once you lose that American accent as well, to me it’s like Chas n’ Dave. And then, heavy metal bands trying to be punk bands"

CJ’s not bitter at all, is he?! There was one band he liked though...

"There’s was one band that had a song about peas and gravy and I can’t remember their name but they were amazing. But anyone who can sing about peas and gravy is alright by me!"

What about Tam, the winners? Did you hear them?

"Yeah, yeah, I did. They were like an English version of Beck. Need I say more!? I love good musicians but I also love sparkle, something that makes a band a bit unique and a bit original. It doesn’t have to just be the music, but also the way a band looks, the way a band performs, to give it an edge of uniqueness. And having seen a bunch of bands, maybe I’m being biased because a lot of the music I just don’t understand and I wouldn’t care to like, so it puts me off them straightaway, but if I hear a good song, it doesn’t matter whether it’s funk, house, drum and bass, classical, jazz, it doesn’t matter, a good song’s a good song. I just didn’t hear that many good songs up there. I heard great grooves, really good grooves, but not many songs and it kind of made me realise, maybe people are just looking for grooves at the moment and something that they can dance to rather than listen to. That’s the vibe I got up there. Not many really good songs but some great rhythms and beats and bops.

"We did our gig and as much as we like hanging around bands, there were so many record company people there and it was always business. I kind of feel a bit alienated when I am around people just talking about business all the time. It does my head in a bit. Because The Jellys are quite close, we’re quite insular sometimes, we tend to enjoy each other’s company rather than socialise so we kept a low profile."

CJ surprisingly doesn’t think there should be more competitions and openings for unsigned bands like this. He thinks that if a band is going to get unsigned, they don’t need to take part in a competition to be noticed because they’ll be noticed anyway.

"I’ve been in major bands that have had record deals and this is the first time I’ve taken part in In The City or any band competition in my life"

Why take part in it then?

"The thing with The Jellys is that we haven’t approached any record companies. We’ve got an EP coming out next month which we’ve done off our own back, and I wanted the band to start from scratch and I didn’t want to use bands I’ve been in in the past and their past successes to enable The Jellys to get a deal. I wanted to get a deal purely through having done a s**tload of gigs and maybe released something on our own and built a following. Just pure hard work."

"We’re going out on tour at the end of this month and we just wanted a tiny bit of exposure before we went off on tour. We don’t want to send out tons of demos and stuff like that so we got asked to do In The City and they said they’d stick us on the CD. It’s good exposure and that’s why we did it. If we can have 10 or 20 people talking about the band it’s good for us. But I didn’t know it was going to be so record company heavy. I thought it would be more attended by the public. It’s kind of a weird one. I think any band would feel strange in that circumstance because it isn’t like a true gig. It is a competition and the whole thing’s organised by record companies. It’s like a meat market.

"We’re after a deal but I’d like record companies to come and see us in a dingy packed out club, watch a club going apes**t and sweating rather than the controlled environment of a competition."

The EP will consist of four songs including ‘Over You’, ‘One Way Or Another’ and ‘Fat Cat’ "which is about my mate’s cat" according to CJ. "A friend of mine, Jase, who used to be the guitar player in Wolfsbane, has a studio in his house where we did our demos. He’s got the fattest cat in the world! The first time I met this cat and it came waddling up to me and I’d never seen a cat so big in my life. I thought I’ve got to write a song about this cat! The song’s only about a minute long and it’s just about the biggest cat. It’s funny and we’ve got some cats meowing on there as well.

"The whole album is dedicated to the love of my pets and all the animals I’ve known over the years. I’m thanking all my friend’s pets as well and hopefully if we can sign a big enough deal, we can have one of those booklets and each page can have a page with a picture of my dog and I’ll tell a story or something like that. The whole album’s dedicated to wildlife in general."

Are you into animal rights?

"I am. My ultimate ambition is to run an animal sanctuary. That’s what I hope to do after The Jellys. Set up an animal sanctuary and knock bands on the head. To look after animals and help animals that have been abused, and stuff like that. My oldest dog, Jake, was abused and I get a lot more pleasure from looking after animals than I ever have from music. When you do have an abused animal, the rewards you get at the end mean a lot more.

"They’re just so respectful because you’ve helped them. It’s that respect that you get back because you know, I’ve helped a lot of humans out and they’ve done me over, but with animals you just don’t get it. It’s a loyalty and they’re really grateful and they’re the best friend you’ll ever have, and that’s what kind of gets me up in the mornings."

Moving on, I inform CJ that I met him when he was in Honeycrack, when they appeared at the Wolvestock festival in Wolverhampton a year ago. He remembers that gig:

"We came up from Japan to play it. It was on a Sunday and we were actually playing in Tokyo on the Thursday and it was such a great night and our tour manager got married on the Saturday. He had a stag night in Tokyo and then we came back, played at his wedding on the Saturday and had no time to get over our jetlag and by the time we came to Wolverhampton we were really exhausted. It wasn’t long after then that we left Epic. I remember last year really well because of the Honeycrack thing and because it’s when I first started thinking about The Jellys as well."

So what went wrong with Honeycrack?

"Nothing went wrong. We walked off Epic because we were in a unique position where we could walk off and wipe our debt off and be completely free of a record company which doesn’t often happen unless you’re completely dropped. We faxed back the contracts to them and said ‘No thank you’ and walked off because of a loophole and in that time we decided we’d do at least one more single and one more tour so we got a deal to release it anyway. We did the one more tour and we took some time off and we all went off and did different things. We had another Honeycrack tour booked and another possible deal but none of us wanted to get back and do the Honeycrack thing. We were all too happy doing our own thing. We kind of just drifted apart. We’re all still really good friends but in hindsight it’s the best thing that’s happened to me. Just to be in The Jellys and to do stuff the way I want to do it."

CJ says there are no comparisons between The Jellys and Honeycrack. He says "It’s a completely different band. Every band I’ve been in has been different to the last. Honeycrack was five songwriters, we all wanted to be frontmen and we were all influenced by different bands. It was kind of like pulling against each other and as much as I like the Honeycrack album, there are so many different styles on there and for me it’s quite a hard album to listen to because half I love and the other half I don’t. It’s purely styles of music I didn’t want to play but we all loved being in the band and we all liked each other and we all made massive compromises. Whereas with The Jellys it’s the three of us and we’re all influenced by the same type of music and we all want to play the same type of music. I’m the frontman, Stiddy’s the drummer and Jeff’s the bass player. We all know our individual roles and we’re not all fighting for the spotlight and we get on great. It is a different type of band. You need direction and you need someone, when there’s a decision to be made, to go ‘Right, this is the decision’ and he has to have the confidence to know the other two will stand by him.

So CJ is now the full time vocalist. I wondered if he had had any vocal training or if it was just a progression from being a backing vocalist in his former bands.

"My vocal training was purely singing back up vocals in The Wildhearts and stepping up a gear or two in Honeycrack. Willie did teach me a lot about harmonies and how to reach certain notes. I’ve got to say that I learnt more in the two years working with Willie than I every did in any of the other bands. He was without a doubt the best musician I’ve ever worked with. He’s so amazingly talented in all aspects of music and I did learn a lot off him.

"When I was in The Wildhearts and in any band I’ve ever been in, I’ve always looked at myself as a frontman and it has caused a lot of problems. Being in The Jellys it feels no different except that I get to talk a lot more! The spotlight’s a bit more on me. But I’m a guitar player first and a singer second."

It must be said that CJ doesn’t have a promising record when it comes to staying in bands and keeping them going. There must be people out there who are cynical and believe that this time next year The Jellys will be no more and CJ will be forming another new band.

"I dunno. For me, The Jellys will go on for another five years. I’m working on the second album now and I’d like this to be my last band. I think I’ve put so much energy into The Jellys that I wouldn’t have the energy to put another band together and start from scratch again. I’m getting too old I think as well! I’m 29 now and I can only play punk rock and I just couldn’t do it in my mid-30s, with conviction and passion. It just wouldn’t work. But I can still go on stage and get angry and mean it because I see enough in the world to get angry about and I can still go on stage and take the piss and still have a good time and mean it. It isn’t about money, I just love playing gigs. In five years time, maybe I’ll be a different person, I don’t know."

The band embarked on their first little tour of the UK in August and September, headlining small clubs such as Birmingham’s Xposure Rock Café and London’s Camden Barfly as well as supporting other name bands. How were the gigs then, CJ?

"It wasn’t so much a tour, just a handful of dates. All the dates we’ve done we’ve enjoyed. We love playing live. Because we’re only a three-piece, every stage is really big. We’ve got a tour coming up, our first proper tour. About 20 dates at the end of this month. We can’t wait to get out there and play. We did play with The Descendants, who are my favourite band. They asked us to support them so I must be in the right band! That’s never happened before.

"You’ve got to come out and see us. You’ve got to see Stidi ‘cause he’s so fast. When he was in The Wildhearts with me, people were saying he’s not a great drummer but he’s one of the only drummers who’s stuck in my mind, who I’ve ever worked with. And I knew he was the only drummer, English drummer, that I could find who I needed to do what I wanted to do. Once you see him live you’ll understand what I mean, And he can sing too. There aren’t many drummers who can play like him and sing."

Of his fans, CJ says he recognises a lot of them. "I’ve seen the same faces for the last eight years. I think I’ve been lucky because I’ve got some people who are just really loyal. In The Wildhearts and in Honeycrack I didn’t make a lot of enemies and I think a lot of people stood by me. I’m not talking about hundreds and thousands of people but it means a lot to me whether it’s just one or a hundred people. They’ve followed everything I’ve done and regardless of what band I’m in I know they’ll always be there and I think it’s kind of cool."

I think it’s kind of cool too. But whether you are an old, loyal CJ fan, or someone who’s not really taken interest before now, I recommend you go and see The Jellys when they play again in your area, and definitely buy that EP and album! I’ve heard six of the new Jellys songs and sure enough, these Jellys taste really good! ‘Feels Like Sunshine’ and ‘Strawberry Ice-Cream’ are fluffy, beaming bags of delight, while ‘Fat Cat’ is the cutest, funniest, maddest song I’ve heard in ages.


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