If you are of the gothic ilk, you will more than likely have heard of Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry and if you haven’t then may I suggest you have been spending some time under a rock,,,,not the post-punk type. Guitarist and later lead singer, Chris Reed, along with others, formed the band in 1981 in Leeds, after the explosion of punk had filtered into the post-punk scene. Not long after, Reed invited Dave ‘Wolfie’ Wolfenden to join the band as another guitarist and together they would form the core writers of the music for The Lorries. I was fortunate enough to get to talk to Wolfie about the 80s, current plans/bands, friendships and the release of the wonderful live album GENERATE.
Thanks for talking to us today Wolfie. We often glamorize the late 70s and early 80s but was it easy being in a band like the Lorries? Um…that’s a good question. Erm, the Lorries kind of started around about 1981 but we’d all kind of been in bands. We saw the Sex Pistols in the Anarchy In The UK tour and that’s when it was all kicking off you know. Out of the whole tour there were only two dates that survived which were Leeds Poly Tech and Lincoln Derby and we had gotten tickets to see The Pistols at Leeds and that show went ahead. And it’s kind of like one of those things, everyone says they were there but in actual fact there were 250 people there and the line up was The Clash, The Damned, Johnny Thunders and The Pistols and that was £1.25 which I guess is like about a $1 and there was about 250 people there and a lot of people, sort of student kind of things, and probably, i don’t know, about 12 punks or 12 people wearing safety pins or 12 people who had paint splattered on their shirts and it got covered by the local press and they absolutely savaged it. And more than musically, more culturally, it was a significant event, although you knew that you were seeing something you’d never ever seen before.
The Pistols were good but the things that kind of really blew our socks off were The Clash and The Damned and all this kind of myth that punk rockers couldn’t play was absolute bullshit because you know the The Damned were, you know, a ferocious force in those days and The Clash were ferocious and they could clearly play, they could clearly play. They had put their time into learning their instruments and it was just amazing to witness, that was like watching something like a bomb go off and we just kind of could sorta play guitars but ah not to a good standard but we could do bad Thin Lizzy versions or Kiss but when we saw the Pistols and The Clash we thought this is what we must do and that’s what we did.
We formed a silly punk band and then it kind of went on from there. I think that was very true for most of the punk rock contingency in Leeds and across the UK that The Pistols were a kind of catalyst not just for music but for ideas and particularly for bands like The Slits who didn’t play in an orthodox way but because they didn’t it made them even more interesting and you never would have heard ideas brought to so many people if punk rock had not started and those ideas challenged most ideas about music, particularly with bands around like Emerson Lake and Palmer and Yes if you know what I mean…. It really challenged people’s ideals, I think that was the significant thing about it was that it empowered people who thought they didn’t have a voice or the ability to believe that they could create something worthy and perhaps something lasting or fun.
It’s amazing that The Damned are still going and that they still sound so amazing on stage. Well yeah, they are a terrific rock’n’roll band. A testament to them. You see them live and they don’t have any backing tapes going, so there is no standard for them to play, they just play.. Yeah absolutely, it’s old school and that is how it should be you know, that’s how they learnt their trade.
How did you first become associated with Chris Reed? Well I’d been playing in a band in Leeds called Expelaires and we were signed to the same label as the Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes and we did a single and some records and we kind of did okay and we played with A Gang Of Four and the Mekons and, you know, we did okay and eventually it kind of burnt itself out and we weren’t going nowhere or there were no deal. And then we kind of drifted apart and I had a year off. Chris came to the last gig and said, you know I’ve got this band, would you like to play? I really like your guitar playing and I said, not at the moment, I’m pissed off with this and don’t want to do it anymore. I spent 4 years on this and got nowhere, so I spent a year getting drunk and then he asked me again and I met him and I think they had done their second single and a Peel session and he played me the recording of and I thought wow that is fucking great. That is what I want to do and so I lined up pretty well really.
It really has been very mush a friendship for you two really hasn’t it?
Yes, yes, yes, he’s had a tough time recently but you know the knowledge that he passed on, you know I owe him a debt but we have shared a long friendship, so I guess it has been fairly reciprocal that we learnt off of each other. He was the first person I ever met that was a real songwriter and we all kind of thought that writing songs was kind of jamming and out of luck maybe 10 ideas and maybe 2 were worthy of being called a song but we weren’t song writers. Chris, you know, was the first person I ever met that could sit down with an acoustic guitar and play like a four chord song from beginning to end with all the words and with all the melodies and I thought, this guy, who the fuck is this guy? Is he Bob Dylan or something you know?! And he has a god given talent, he really really has and he can do it without thinking and he’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. I just wish that he realise that.
So he (Chris Reed) is a very reserved person?
He’s incredibly reserved, you know. He came to see us play a while ago, he’s not in a particularly good place at the moment, you know but people are pretty pleased to see him when he socialises, he seems to have this massive self doubt which I think a lot of truly talented people do but the joy and enjoyment that has been given to lots of people through his music and The Lorries, took us around the world and changed our lives. He’s turned a lot of good jobs down really…really a lot down but hopefully he’ll get in a better place and hopefully we can resurrect the band, but when he’s good he’s very good but when he’s bad he’s very naughty.
Obviously Red Lorry Yellow Lorry have a very loyal fan base and maybe Chris is a bit reticent to say so, would you say yourself and he are proud of the music that has stood the test of time?
I think he’s slightly fragile right now. We’re amazed that people still like it really. When you are doing this, looking into the eye of the storm it could be cooking or painting or writing, you aren’t really aware of how good it is. It’s only with hindsight and time that you can perhaps look back with affection or some kind of pride but people still seem to like it and I think that is a testament to his song writing. In the same way a Johnny Cash song stilll sound great. We always said that it is always about the song and he always put the song first and he always tried to play to the song. I mean in essence we kind of wanted to be like the MC5 but play like songs that were as good as Motown. They were the two main influences really, I mean really we liked the energy of the MC5 but we couldn’t play like that but we also loved the songwriting skills of Motown, so we both had a love of that. So that was kind of our attempt to marry the two, putting them together and it came out sounding like The Lorries.
Leeds and a lot of the northern cities were veritable hot beds for the post punk/gothic scene. Do you think the politics at the time, such as Thatcherism, Falkland war, general lack of jobs and the bleak out look of possible nuclear annihilation had anything to do with the new movement and did it shape your music? I think it definitely did. In the same way all the things that we liked came from Detroit, you know it’s a pretty rough city to live in and it definitely shaped the music in Detroit unconsciously and I think the times that we lived in Leeds no one had any money. People were signing on and getting benefits from the government and trying to get by and the only real way out of it was either, other than get a real job, was to become a footballer or try and be half decent in a band. And I don’t know, you kind of messing about in your bedroom and say wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could take this music around the world and we actually, you know we kept with it and we kept going and we kept hopefully getting better and better. Made an album and that did pretty well, got a chance to go to America and these things started falling into place but it were never planned like that, we just though let’s just play the music and whatever follows at least we kept true to that ethos really and it almost worked, (laughing) it almost worked.
For some of us it did work. It still resonates with a lot of us today, the music.
Yeah the tunes still sound good.
GENERATE was released recently, which is mostly a live album with a few rare studio recordings that were on a limited CD release at a couple of gigs. Why did you decide in 2021 to release GENERATE? Well on The Lorries fan-club page on Facebook, quite a lot of people had been saying, you know, has anyone got any live recordings, has anyone got any live recordings and I think like a lot of bands, there is a lot of really bad recordings but you kind convince yourself that they are half decent probably because you were there and probably because you were in an altered state but that don’t mean it was good. Someone sent me that gig in Frankfurt, is the best recording of the band that we had ever heard and you know it just seemed kind of fortuitous and good timing and then you think sod it, it’s no good stuck in a cupboard or a wardrobe, might as well get it out there. And hopefully people will like it and we are quite proud of it and we managed to play okay that night!
It’s actually a really amazing recording because it is so clear. You get some live recordings and the quality is quite horrendous.
Yeah, I know. We were just very lucky. It was a venue that we had played a few times in Germany and Germany was very good to The Lorries and we always loved playing the Batschkapp in Frankfurt and the sound engineer had the good sense to put a cassette in the machine and have two ambient mics on. He gave us a cassette at the end of the show, we played it and we thought well that’s not too shabby and then nothing happened with it and it had been in someone’s cupboard for years and then I got a copy then I had it mastered and chopped into individual songs. It seemed good timing to put it out, not a full stock but a kind of reminder of tours, that we can sound okay.
It did sound wonderful. Would you ever consider releasing another album under The Lorries name?
Well there is another album. It’s finished. Completely finished and two of the tracks on the EP are from that album but the mixes are all pretty good but never finalized but they are monitor mixes but they are good monitor mixes. The two tracks that are from that EP are from the album and there are twelve songs all together, so there are another ten that have never been released that are of that standard to be released. But without Chris’ consent no one feels comfortable about doing it, as it should as it is his band and if he gets in a better place, hopefully it will come out, it’s a pretty basic rock’n’roll album, there isn’t much technology on the album, it’s just us playing. And I think it sounds good for that and it’s a very dry recording and you can hear everything so hopefully it will come out.
Hopefully it will because that would be brilliant. That takes me on to something else. In the 80s, you and Chris did an interview where you talked about the drum machine you used as well as having a drummer and saying you were more into analogue music and that you controlled the drum machine and the drum machine didn’t control you.
I don’t know.. I could see me saying it but I don’t think it’s true. You know the drum machine was a pain in the arse to be honest. You know, say we were going to the studio for two weeks, we’d spend ten days doing the drums and like the rest of the time doing the vocals and guitars. The drum programming took up 75% of The Lorries time in the studio but it was something Chris really really wanted to do and it was a pain in the arse! It really really was. We should have gotten a great drummer and we did have a great drummer (laughing) and sadly he joined The Mission and we were stuck using this hybrid of using the drum machine and real drummer, which live was okay but when we wanted to do it in the studio, we’d end up resampling and triggering and recording…and it took fucking ages and it was really boring. And then when we had done that we could have some fun and get the guitars out but it really was a labour of love. It really was.
Do you find that today’s technology makes it so much more accessible to using electronics?
Yeah, absolutely. There was no real easy way to do it then. We used the drum machine, sometimes we used a multi track tape machine and a drum kit, so you’d end up with like 20 channels of drums and then you have to sound check all this shit, the drums were taking the bulk of the time. But when it sounded good, it sounded good, you know the GENERATE live album is purely a drummer and that’s why I like it. We just went out on that tour and said fuck this, we’re just going to play it live and I think that what was nice to hear to prove that we could play like a band without a life support machine because that’s what it felt like it had become. Like a life support machine that we were afraid to ditch.
Recently you teamed up with Caroline Blind, ex-lead singer of Sunshine Blind to create the project Voidant. The self titled album is not the gothic/post-punk fare that we are used to from either of you. Could you please explain the premise behind it?
Well Caroline asked me to do some guitar for her on a Lorries song. She did a version of Heaven and I had been working with the guys from The Wake as well and I had started doing kind of trip hop stuff at home, stuff I could do by myself you know, just on the computer with some basic synths and I kind of make a basic tune and I said would you be interested in doing this? It’s not goth, it not..I don’t know what it is. I guess it’s kind of trip hop. And she said yeah I’ve done similar kind of things with Sunshine Blind. So the first one we did was called Death To Sleep and that turned out good and I carried on working and most of it at during Covid, both of us were at home for a year. I’d kind of be doing all the electronic backing tracks and sending them to her and then she would come up with a rough idea of the melody and the lyrics and then I took them away to a studio in Manchester where it was all edited and stuck together by a trusted friend who threw all the shit bits and kept the good bits and I trust his judgement and I think he got it right. Yeah I think it is what it is, you know, we are pretty pleased with it. It’s not what I’ve done before but that was good because we didn’t know. It’s like baking a cake but not knowing what it tastes like at the end. I think we are pretty pleased with it.
You should be pleased with it. It was a really interesting record and it also kind of points to some of your influences in regards to the covers, the tastes in music when you were young. So who did influence you when you were young?
When I was a kid, my brother was a teddy boy! Like I was born in ’56 so I’m pretty old and my brother was a teddy boy. He was into rock’n’roll, we had a mono record player there in the corner and I grew up listening to Little Richard and Chuck Berry. So that’s where I got the love of rock’n’roll was from my brother and it was a good time for pop music and the first records that I bought was You Really Got Me by The Kinks, Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones and Spirit In The Sky. And I just thought what the fuck is this noise, what the fuck is going on with this.. this noise is amazing! And it’s only later I found out that they were using a thing called a fuzz-box which made everything sound amazing so I thought this would be quite good fun to do this but I don’t know how to play the guitar (laughing). So eventually I learned, you know I had quite a good grounding in music with my brother and there was a lot of good pop music around at the time with The Small Faces and The Kinks and The Stones, you know a pretty exciting time for everyone with things like The Yard Birds all sort of like this sonic architecture that has always fascinated me the same way the Voidant thing fascinates me. You know the sonic architecture. The Lorries to a certain extent, we never really wanted the guitars to sound like a rock’n’roll band. Chris always described the songs as being like ballads and I kind of think in a sense he’s right. They are kind of torch songs, you know love songs and then (laughing) we fuck it up. So there is a lovely song underneath it and then we fuck it up with a load of noise and that’s how we did it.
Who now do you find inspiration from or enjoy listening to? I’ve always been a fan of bands like The Young Gods, really really lovely young blokes from Switzerland, Ministry I’ve always been a fan of, Killing Joke, I’ve always been a Hendrix fan, Bowie particularly the Mick Ronson era and before that The Kinks and The Yard Birds. It’s kind of cool anything that sounds interesting sonically. I band I loved from the 70s was a band called The Ground Hogs, a band with really amazing guitar playing. Things that really make your ears pop and you think that’s really interesting and how did they do that?! Someone like Radiohead is still really interesting sonically, they have that ability to make you think that’s cool, how did they do that? Things that kind of challenge your idea of what music is I think. I’ve always been a fan of blues I think.
So you like the mixture of guitar being sonic but also the mixture of the electronic industrialized sound as well?
Yeah that seems to be something easier to do at home so it’s kind of where I’m at now. You know you don’t need a bunch of other people to do that, you can do it at home so.. Synths and things can create sounds that a guitar can’t and a guitar player can do things that a synth can’t. As long as you have got a slot, you can fuck it up as much as you like which is where the fun is really, as in splashing the colours around and hopefully there is a song in there somewhere.
It seems to be Covid has brought a lot more of this style of music out in bands. I’ve seen a lot more acts in lockdown where there is a lot more industrial or synth related music coming out now and it’s actually a very exciting time. Is this where Voidant is coming from and where do you see Voidant going in the future?
Well I think we do have a plan for another EP. We did want to do it before Christmas but I don’t know whether we will. My music room I’m just decorating so I don’t have any equipment set up but we have got some ideas for songs. Interestingly enough Caroline came over when she played Whitby. She stayed with us and she’s a really big fan of Zakk Wylde and I can see he’s a terrific guitar player although his music isn’t something I would listen to but there is one Zakk Wylde song that we both agree on that we’d like to do a cover of in a 4AD kind of ideal and it’s this song called Spoke In The Wheel which I think is a fucking great song because you know it’s a really great song. I think we are going to have a bash at that and there is a song I want her to sing but we’ll come up with something else. It’s not done yet and promised another EP, Shooting Stars Only I want her to sing but it will be different to The Lorries version. So that is to be done. I think hopefully to get better at it and you know carry on, you know cause it’s what we do and it’s what makes us feel alive I think.
So the EP is coming up, might not make it by Christmas but it’s definitely coming and if Chris Reed gets back on track, then maybe a Lorries album coming out, which would be very exciting.
It would be great and we have spoken to him about it, but he’s not in a situation to commit but then again he isn’t saying no, which we can kind of take as encouraging because he’s not saying no, he’s just saying I can’t do it at the moment. So we’ll just have to see really but I think when someone isn’t too well, the worst thing you can do is to pressure someone, we try to stay in touch and encourage him. I think he is coming out to see the glam rock show at Christmas and he’s pretty supportive of that and you know it’s just good to talk to him really. He definitely needs supporting through a difficult time.
If that’s the case, what else do you see for one David Wolfie Wolfenden going in to the future?
Ah, well to finish decorating my studio and get all the boxes plugged in. I’m working on some music with my partner Fiona, who is a great singer. So there will be that, the Expelairs, the Voidant thing, hopefully The Lorries and this band our little glam rock’n’roll project which at the moment is covers but it would be fun to write some new glam rock songs. It would certainly would be fun trying and it’s fun dressing up anyway. You know it’s good fun really. I think anything that lifts people really, you know in the middle of Covid can only be good and music can do that and we all need the shared experience and we all need a connection and we all need to feel we are all working towards a common goal, all these things we are talking about like Chris and Caroline, they are connections that are worth maintaining and persevering with even though times are difficult.