From unknown Glaswegians to Banshee protégées
a touching rags-to-riches story
by STEVE KEATON
"We`re just a pop group, we want to get into the charts, " says Altered lmages' tiny vocalist glibly.
Young Claire has a surplus of these facile one-liners, and she throws them at irregular intervals between faked yawns of boredom. l feel like a geriatric headmaster trying to detain a group of naughty pupils. They're a strange bunch of youngsters, cursed with an almost cinematic unreality. Teenagers from outer space. Live they play with the almost idiotic zest of a B-movie prom band. A psycho with an axe can't be far away.
All five hail from darkest Glasgow, their ages range from 17 to 19 and two of them are still at school. Aside from Claire, we have Tony and Caesar on guitars, Johnny on bass and Tich on drums - an apprentice electrician, he's the band's only worker. They've been together about a year and a half, are as green as an agitated Bruce Banner but are currently buzzing like a demented bluebottle, thanks to a remarkable bout of good fortune that's lifted them from the mire of Scottish publand and whisked them through a string of prestigious gigs.
"We decided to form a band about three years ago at school," explains Tony, "but it took us about a year-and-a-half to buy some gear. None of us had played any instruments before. We didn't know how to tune our guitars so we just didn't bother. Anyway we think it's better to be self taught, that way you don't pick up other people's technique. Its your ideas which count, not your capabilities. It`s something we've been slagged off for, people can't judge the music only the musicianship."
"None of us can read music, " Johnny declares smugly. "To me that's like reading French, you don't need that - all you need to know is the basic chords. We do it all by memory. "
"When I first got my drums I was going to buy a book on playing but it had all these note things in it, so I didn't bother, "adds Tich.
This simplistic attitude extends even to the material itself.
"We tend not to go into what we write about too deeply. We'll probably find out more about it later, we might scrutinise it more then. "
So much for revealing the profoundities of 'Real Toys For Sadistic Boys', 'A Day's Wait' and 'Insects'.
"We don't write songs, we make tunes," spouts Claire. The band's first major break came with a slot on the bill at the mammoth Leeds science-fiction festival. From a grotty Scottish pub to an arena of 6,000. How did they cope with such an epic event?
"We didn't know what to expect before we went on," says a wide-eyed Johnny. "It was awful, we were all shaking. We went on at 6pm and were the first group to get an encore. Once you've done something like that you're prepared for anything."
The Banshees figure largely behind Altered lmages' rapid progress. They've recently completed a major tour as support to Sioux and co, who now seemed to have assumed the role of general mentors, and their own strident guitar/drum sound is more than a little derivative of their guardians. Incidentally both Steve and Sioux have turned up for tonight's gig (along with Skid Jobson, Paul Cook and our own Terri Sanai - what a host of stars) and can be seen fussing around like busy parents. l asked Johnny how the Banshees connection evolved?
"We made a live demo tape and sent it along to their office asking if we could support them when they played in Glasgow. Well, it seems that they liked the tape, and when they saw us play they liked that too, so we got the gig. They even took us down to Polydor to do some proper demos, Steve Severin produced us. They've really helped us a lot. "
A Son of the Banshees tag might be somewhat unfair, but it's an appellation which certainly seems to fit.
The tour itself was a so-so affair.
"It started slow and seemed to hot up near the end," explains Claire. "Overall it was enjoyable, being our first real experience of a big tour. Tiring though."
"There were a lot of seated venues," moans Tich. "We don't like them. The worst one was the Manchester Apollo. Everyone just sat still and clapped. It sounded like we were getting a good reaction, but you'd never have known for looking. The Mecca halls we played after that were really good, no seats. We got a lot of spitting sometimes. It was strange, if we played bad we'd get a good reaction, yet if we played well we wouldn't go down." He laughs at an unheard joke.
"When we first sent the Banshees the tape we didn't really expect anything back. We couldn't believe it when they let us play with them. They're really genuine people, we had all sorts of preconceived ideas as to what they would be like. You just seem to forget that they are ordinary people. "
The latest feather in their ten-gallon hat is a rather fine session for the John Peel show; strangely their enthusiasm for it hardly matches that shown by our beloved deejay.
"It was awful, the producer kept on falling asleep," bleats Claire. "He did nothing at all, it was the engineer who did everything. And the BBC was so clinical, so clean and tidy. It smelled of detergent as soon as you walked in the door. Yuk. We never met John, but he gave us a good old plug on the radio."
Their set consisted of 'Dead Pop Stars' ("Peely asked for it special, so we did it. It's his favourite"), 'Insects' (" We'd only been doing it for a couple of weeks'), 'Legionaire' ("A bit like the Shadows really") and 'Beckoning Strings' ("Extremely commercial. . . ").
Are any of them going to be the debut single? "Don't know, we still haven't made up our minds. We've been thinking about it for six months."
"I think a lot of people resent us back home. The way we managed to side step all the small clubs, missed all that side of it out. To a certain extent a lot of this has been handed to us on a plate. If the Banshees said, 'That's it, the relationship's over' I think we'd just collapse. If it wasn't for them we would have broken up, because there is no way we would have been able to break out of the pub scene - it's full of silly hippies.
"There are lots of good bands in Glasgow that will never get out because they can't get the exposure. It's a shame. We've been really spoilt. For the first six months we were struggling and fighting, in Glasgow there are all these little cliques and we managed to get away from them all. They really resent us for that."
Despite all the interest in them, Altered Images strike me as an unremarkable bunch, their talent soured by a mild precocity. I can't make out if they're for real. The material is good yet far from ripe, and little Claire's coyness grates like a rusty chainsaw.
The band have no depth, and the veneer is superficial. They are not this week's next big thing. They are merely a fledgling band having fledgling fun. The image is static. The psycho with the axe hasn't moved.