Duncan Reid, former bassist and front man of The Boys and now lead singer with UK pop punk band Duncan Reid and The Big Heads, natters to Punktuation about supporting the Ramones, his fist fight with his old band mates and the new Big Heads album, Don’t Blame Yourself.
“It’s just totally unbelievable,” Duncan Reid says, as we discuss the state of the world at the moment. “…And he’s just a liar,” Reid adds as we touch on to the topic of the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. “But do you know what really amazes me?” He asks rhetorically. “It’s that since the Brexit vote there seems to be a large contingent of the punk audience that has become very right wing and believe this crap they’re being fed.”
The ‘angry young punk’ is still lurking within Duncan Reid – although you’d be forgiven for not believing that listening to ‘Don’t Blame Yourself’ (Reid’s fourth album with The Big Heads). However, when he admits; “When stuff makes me angry, very melodic, poppy songs come out of me,” you realise that Reid is more than a little bit miffed!
Back in the ‘70’s, Reid’s previous band, The Boys (that were once described as ‘The Beatles of punk’ because of Reid’s poppy melodic sensibilities) achieved limited commercial success, but their music did influence the development of so many other musicians.
German punk band Die Toten Hosen for example often play, and have recorded, cover versions of The Boys tracks including the song ‘First Time’ for their album Auf dem Kreuzzug ins Glück – 125 Jahre die Toten Hosen and ‘Brickfield Nights’ for the album ‘Learning English, Lesson One’.
Then, if you look very carefully on the back cover of The Jam’s 1978 album All Mod Cons, the photograph of Paul Weller’s Rickenbacker guitar carries a The Boys sticker.
It’s also a fact that the Boys were once cited as ‘Joey Ramone’s favourite band‘, that Reid is one of only two musicians who have played with the Ramones without being named ‘Ramone’, (having sung on the live version of ‘Baby I Love You’) and that The Boy’s supported the Ramones for the UK leg of their End of the Century world tour.
With that amazing backstory, I simply had to ask: So, what was it like supporting the Ramones? That must have been a total headspin.
“The Ramones were the embodiment of ‘don’t meet your heroes’ because they were really desperately unhappy and to be honest, very strange people.Duncan Reid on touring with the Ramones
“It was good and bad,” Reid admits. “It was good because they are so great. It was interesting to meet them and of course a total honour to play on stage with them. But for me the Ramones were the embodiment of ‘don’t meet your heroes’ because they were really desperately unhappy and to be honest, very strange people.
“Joey, was a lovely guy and really nice to us and I think he was borderline Asperger’s. You had Johnny, who was basically a big brooding right-wing bully who would hit the rest of them if they stepped out of line – perhaps they needed it, but he wasn’t particularly easy. Dee Dee was as miserable as hell, complaining all the time about the fact that England wasn’t America. Then you had Marky, who was a nice guy but at the time, unbeknownst us, he was well on the road to alcoholism. But do you know what? Every night they got up on the stage and they were absolutely superb.”
“Dee Dee was as miserable as hell, complaining all the time about the fact that England wasn’t America”Duncan Reid on touring with the Ramones
The Boys broke up in 1982 but in the late 1990s a Japanese band called Thee Michelle Gun Elephant had a hit with a Boys cover which prompted the re-release of several The Boys albums, garnering more than 30,000 albums sales in Japan alone.
“Yeah that was cool,” Reid says with a warm smile. “It was after that, that a promoter in Japan asked The Boys to reform and go and tour. Before this myself and Matt Dangerfield (The Boys Guitar/vocals) were going, ‘no no no’, when we were getting offers to reform, but with this one we thought, ‘ooh, we haven’t been to Japan’. So we decided to do it. We went to Japan, had a great time, and thought we might as well carry on – which we did.”
Reid reveals that he had ten great years playing all over the world with The Boys but left in 2011 after the band had a “massive fight”.
“It was a huge fight… full on fisticuffs! It had been bubbling up for a very long time and I’m not pointing fingers or blaming anyone because it takes two to Tango, but it got to the point were before every tour I’d be steeling myself for the bickering to come – it was all unplanned and very painful and very sad.”
“It was a huge fight… full on fisticuffs! It had been bubbling up for a very long time”Duncan Reid on his departure from The Boys
Over the years Reid’s written songs that have eluded to the breakup of The Boys including ‘All Fall Down’ that appeared on the first Duncan Reid and The Big Heads album, Little Big Head, and the other was ‘Not The Kind of Guy Girls Hug‘ – on their second album.
“The split took me years to get over, ” Reid admits. “But it was around the time of the third Big Heads album ‘Bombs Away’, and we were playing a gig and the crowd was singing the words of my song back to me and I thought ‘Wow having that fight with The Boys is probably the best thing that happened to me!”
“If that didn’t happen I would still be with The Boys and travelling around the world and everything would be so easy. But it did happen and it forced me to do something which has led to four albums that I am very proud of and has lead me to be in the best band that I have ever played in and I’ve ended up in a really good place where I wouldn’t otherwise have been.
“Having that fight with The Boys is probably the best thing that happened to me!”Duncan Reid
Reid admits he is loving performing with the The Big Heads (Sophie Powers: Guitar, Keyboard, BVs, Nick Hughes: Guitar, BVs and Karen Jones: Drums, BVs) and is really enjoying being in a band where all the other members are quite a bit younger than him too.
“My wife used to tell me, when we had an old dog, that the best way to keep them young is to get a puppy. So I kinda feel like that old dog playing with three puppies, but it’s really fun and very different – it’s created a very fresh, energetic way of looking at music for me.
“The sound of the new album is really influenced by the pop punk bands of the nineties and noughties – because that’s when my band were teenagers and were listening to that music.
The album which hit the shops yesterday has ‘14 jolly little songs’ covering topics as diverse as mortality, mid-life crisis, summer holidays, inter-generational love affairs, politicians and a little more mid-life crisis thrown in for good measure. “A little something for all the family in these dangerous and confined times.” the band’s press release says.
“We had loads of tours lined up to promote the album but of course they were all canceled because of Covid,” Reid says. “We were thinking whether we should release the album or hold off until goodness knows when, but there were people who had crowdfunded this album two years ago it seemed unfair to hold it back. The other thing is, things go stale and we’re proud of the album and we really wanted to get it out.
“Who knows when we will play live again, hopefully soon, but something tells me that it will be a little while yet before they let a crowd of 50 year olds into a place to shout in each other faces over a booming PA.”
Don’t Blame Yourself is out now in shops and on Amazon worldwide.
More Duncan Reid and the Big Heads
CLICK HERE: Duncan Reid’s Stories Behind Each Track on ‘Don’t Blame Yourself’
Your Future Ex Wife
“Walking through Soho I saw a work of genius on a blackboard outside a bar: “Come in and meet your future ex-wife” it said. It reminded me of an eye-opening evening in a member’s club in Mayfair. Rich men buying drinks for the most stunningly attractive young Russian girls, each of whom had a clear strategy in mind.”
For All We Know
“One Saturday afternoon I was shopping with my wife and daughter. It was wonderful. So wonderful they took pity on me and said I could watch the football in a pub while they finished examining clothes in great detail. In that pub a random stranger asked me: “You know, it could all end next week?”. ”Yes”, I agreed, “It could all end next week”. “And you know”, he continued,” You can’t take it with you?”. “No” I confirmed, “You can’t take it with you”. “So: you might as well buy me a drink then” he concluded with incontestable logic. So I did, but made a song out of the affair, inventing allegories for being about to kick the bucket (a wonderful phrase in itself) so that I could tell this tale. Of course, there is “the fat lady’s ready to sing” (and it’s not over till she does), “the ref is playing extra time” (and the game is not over till the end of that), Nelson’s asked for one last kiss (from Hardy, if you know your naval history, and Nelson died just after), but what is “Meg and Tom have finally met”? All will be revealed eventually in one of my blogs at duncanreidandthebigheads.com. Me cruel? Of course not.”
Welcome to my World
“I love a good reprobate and I’ve known a few world class ones. Heroes who wake up in a strange bed, head thumping from last night’s excesses and with no idea where they or their clothes are. Who wander down to find their car but can’t and wonder why the young lady on the stairs would want to stay in touch, having no memory themselves of the night before.
I know a guitarist, often found to my right, who calls such days “Sunday”.”
Tea and Sympathy
“An evocative film title from the 50s. Starring Deborah Kerr it was based on a play by Robert Anderson. In those days the idea of an affair between a married woman and a student would have been outrageous. I’ve transposed the location to Waterloo Station, London with echoes of that very British story of marital infidelity, “Brief Encounter”. The wife must wave goodbye to the young man, departing to live his life, while she stays to bear her loneliness, silently carrying on.”
To Live or Live Not
“Periodically I get writers block. I always have plenty of tunes but subject matter for the lyrics? More difficult. I’ve practically written all I can about my life, so topics become more precious. After a few months in one of these dead periods, from goodness knows where came the lines: “Gonna catch the first plane to Caracas, why go somewhere that’s far too safe. Gonna find a girl who plays maracas, gonna ask her out with all her mates”. “Yes” I cried in jubilation, “I’ve still got it!”. And so began a tale of mid-life crisis which hits all males in my experience. Watch out for 45-year-old men!”
The Grim Reaper
“In the summer of 2018 Jez of The Fuckwits suddenly died. Jez was one of those party animals you always imagined were immortal. Always there with a grin, a can of cider and an unintelligible northern quip. A few weeks later the same shock hit regarding Gary Borland of Heavy Drapes. I’d been speaking with Gary only the day before. We’d had plans to work very closely together. Then, almost at once, my friend Neil McNaughton was also gone. Neil was an expert on Politics and Economics who set exam papers on the subject and ghost wrote autobiographies in his spare time.
“Bugger me”, I thought, “They were all younger than me”. And so here is a song of defiance. The Grim Reaper may be lurking just out of sight, watching over us all, but for the time being he can either sling his hook or join in with the party. Any other course of action is just downright unacceptable!”
“A song written expressly to be played on the BBC. Well, perhaps not. Provoked by a tweet from a young man in Essex, his photo showing full on tattoos, bald head and beer belly, who referred to our most aristocratic Member of Parliament affectionately and with complete approval as “the Mogster”. It begged the question: how does someone, who would consider that young man to be an appalling, badly spoken, ignorant oik, evoke such admiration from the object of his disdain?
All references to that politician are entirely accidental, of course.
Having written the song, I reheard “Motherfuckers” by the brilliant Simon Love. There’s no doubt about it, I hadn’t done it deliberately, but I’d ripped his song off. We settled the matter at dawn under Marquess of Queensberry rules, battering each other to a standstill and so agreeing to split the song credit.”
Oh What a Lovely Day
“I was a late starter when it came to foreign holidays. My first one, at the age of 19, was magical. Two weeks on Gran Canaria with my girlfriend, later to become wife. Strawberries in February, I couldn’t believe it, and sunshine on our backs. Life changing.”
Ballad of a Big Head
I loved The Monkees. My stepdad wouldn’t let me watch them on the telly because they were “Rubbish”. That made me love them more as they “Monkeed around”. And they had a theme song. So here is ours. A tribute to the wonderful times we’ve had with wonderful people all over the world.
Don’t Blame Yourself
“Since 2016 being in the UK has been like living in a huge, ugly bar fight. It’s a function of social media of course. Most of us exist in our own echo chambers “liking” things we agree with, which algorithms analyse and show us more of. Occasionally though we bump into people with opposite opinions and then all hell breaks out.
It’s not just the UK. Reading tweets from America of Trump supporters arguing with democrats and vice versa is truly ugly. I’m sure the same happens elsewhere.
At the same time there seems to be a rise in the world of people who feel “passed over”. No one listens to them, they feel, as decisions get taken elsewhere outside their control. This seems to translate into the age-old dislike of strangers. Hence “Blame it on Henrik” or “Poor old Diego”.
The song is an impression of living in that bar fight while politicians use the situation and foreigners get the blame. Let’s hope the pattern reverses.”
Came the Day
“A play in less than 3 minutes. Young girl breezes like a whirlwind into the life of an older man, turns everything upside down and moves on.”
Little Miss Understood
“For all the world’s misfits and outsiders who decide: “Damn it. I’ll be myself”. Dedicated to Kalyn Gilinger who may or may not feel that way!”
“Some days you think: “Is this all worth it?” Promoters and agents don’t answer emails, 11-hour drives through the snow from Lyon to Liege to play a gig with a cough and a cold when you’d rather be wrapped up in bed at home, etc.
And then you get an email from Dave Bundy of Lincoln, Nebraska. “Sorry to take up your time as I know you are busy but I just wanted to let you know that I have to drive two times a week, eight hours each way to Minnesota for my cancer treatment and your music keeps me going”.
“I mean, wow, that’s worth it.
“And so began my, as of now, entirely email relationship with the most positive man I know. A man who lives with cancer lurking in his stomach, but who takes each day as it comes, seeing the positive in everything.
“Here’s my humble tribute to him.”