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When I read that Clare Grogan`s new band Universal Love School were playing
King`s College London on Thursday March 15th, I conned my way into the building
on the pretence of being a student there, only to find that there were not
enough studes willing to shell out £3.50 in aid of Amnesty for a Guinness,
Baileys and Irish Whiskey promotion with ULS, One and Eddie Izzard to make it
worthwhile, so it was cancelled.
I know students are apathetic, but are they completely stupid?
Luckily Universal Love School were also playing a free gig in the ULU bar the
next night, so I went along to that.
A healthy number of people turned up, and it was a very good gig.
The first song was 'Can U fly' which is a good catchy song to start with, but
has some rather corny lyrics like 'tell me baby I'm the only one'!
Most of the songs are a compromise between being catchy and being corny, but
then, that's what pop is all about.
There have been some problems 'translating the record thing into a live thing'
and it is difficult to judge the songs live when they are probably better
suited to record, but they certainly stand up on their own.
When I listen to the songs, 'Reason is the slave' strikes me as being their
strongest song, but the songs I found swimming around my head in the following
weeks were 'Can U fly' and 'Dreamkissing', so it depends on how you define a
good song as to which is best.
They also did a cover of Sly & The Family Stone's 'Running away'. I haven't
heard the original, but I would guess that it is a better version!
There was a long call for an encore, and they came back and did 'Girl Friday'
again. A song about weekends.
The guitarist 'introduced' the band at regular intervals during the set, so
asked him, who is in the band?
The guy playing the keyboards is the keyboard player, his name is Ricky Blue,
the guy playing the bass is Dave Heath, the guy playing drums is Paul Ridgeley
and the girl singing is Jack Robinson, and I'm Stephen Lironi.
Who's the other singer?!
Some dodgy bird. She also doubles on tambourine.
I was allowed 10 minutes to interview the dodgy bird. 'This is Friday night
me as well'.
Have you done many dates?
This is probably about our 11th since November. We've just been playing one or
Have they been going well?
Yeah, really well. It's Just really hard for us at this stage because we do
realise some people are out there expecting some Altered Images songs, and it's
difficult when you're just playing all new songs. I appreciate how hard it is
for the audience almost, to get into that because they're just hearing brand
new things all the time.
We're still into writing ultimate pop songs, I guess. I don't think they have
to be boring. I never have.
How would you categorise your music?
What we're trying to do is just groovy rock n roll, I guess.
Are you trying to get in the charts and have commercial success?
I don't have a record deal at the moment, so we're a bit away from that.
Obviously to get across to more and more people we need to have one. It would
be silly to not want one.
Are you playing any bigger places?
No, it's just small gigs at the moment and build it up. Wednesday night we
supported Love and Money, which was the biggest thing we've done, and that was
really good. But we're just really starting from nowhere, which is slow, for me,
but we need to do it again. Just strip it down to basics.
And start again?
Yeah. It has to be like that. It's not going to work any other way. You can't
change the public. You've got to do it the way they like to see it being done,
and that's build on it, and it's the public at the end of the day.
You did an album, 'Trash mad'. What happened to that?
It was recorded and put up in the shelf somewhere in London Records' offices.
Was it songs you did tonight?
There is a couple of songs in there from 'Trash mad' but that's it.
Were you happy with it?
There was absolutely nothing wrong with it. Obviously London Records just
really lost confidence in what I was trying to do. Which made me realise I was
going to have to go really public with it.
You had a good reaction.
Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised.
Are you pleased that other bands do cover versions of Altered Images songs?
Do they? I don't know. It's nice if they do. That's a phase in my life that was
dead exciting to be 19 and all over the world. That was amazing, but ...
That's behind you now?
A wee bit. It's not that I intentionally disassociated myself with that phase
of my life, but it has become very very remote to me. I don't really know why
that is, but it has. It was a long time ago and I really am a different person
in many ways, just because I've grown up a lot, like most people.
Have you heard The Fat Tulips single, 'Where's Clare Grogan now?'?
Yeah, I've heard of that. You can't help being flattered by these things.
They wrote in to the NME as well.
That's right, I remember.
Would you go on children's TV to promote your records?
Childrens television? Why wouldn't I? Why are you asking that question?
Because a lot of bands don't because they think it upsets their credibility.
Shit. What is credibility? Who can afford it? I think it's silly not to try and
get across to as many people as possible. It's just snobbishness not to.
I think lots of people handle it in different ways. You could go on in a ra ra
skirt and carry a bunch of balloons, but I wouldn't do that. What's wrong with
kids? What's the big deal? There are no rules. There are absolutely no rules.
You can do whatever the fuck you like.
Kids just listen to whatever's on the TV and they like it.
And you do, and I do. What makes us a superior knowledge? Because journalists
in the NME tell us, or journalists that write fanzines? Hell, there's no way.
As I say, it's the way you handle things.
Do you still live in Scotland?
No. I love Scotland and I go back as often as I can, but I don't get to work up
there the way I get to work down here. At the end of the day I'm just trying to
make a living, like a lot of people.
Where do you work?
Well, at the moment I'm working for British Satellite Broadcasting. I do their
movie program for them. Looking at movies. That's nice, as someone said to me.
They had a lot of problems to start with.
It's like anything new. It just always takes time. If somebody offered you an
awful lot of money to sit and watch really good movies and talk about them
afterwards you'd find it hard to resist.
Do you agree that 'Money changes everything'?
Yes. People are greedy. That changes people. Money gives you a certain amount
of freedom to do what you want to do in life, which makes it nice to have. But
it should never cloud your vision, but unfortunately I think it does cloud
people's vision. I'm probably no different, but at least I think about it now
What was the last record you bought?
I just bought the other week, I don't know if you've heard of Julee Cruise.
She's done a really good album. That's great, I love that. And I bought Primal Scream
'Loaded'. Bobby used to be really good friends with Altered Images. I
know him pretty well. I don't know him very well now.
What star sign are you?
Are you a typical Pisces?
What is a typical Pisces?
Scatty, romantic, sensitive ? hyper?sensitive. If you write anything bad about
me I'll cry. That's guaranteed. It's up to you.
The theme of this band seems to be love. Is that deliberate?
It's such a universal thing. I think it's one thing that we can all relate to.
I think it's quite important for me really to write about things that I'm not
out of my depth in. I think that's one thing that we all know what it's like to
love, to hate, to be rejected, to win the fight, you know. That's what the
whole world is all about. What else is there? I don't know. I just think it's
quite important to keep relevant to your own life. I give away quite a lot of
personal things in my lyrics, and if I didn't write the songs that I do, they
wouldn't be honest. I know love isn't the most original idea, but it's
certainly the most misunderstood and understood.
Clare is having a tough time waiting for the inevitable mega?bucks record deal,
playing college gigs to a small number of people who would rather be at home
reading a book on Chebyshev polynomials, but have come out in the hope of
hearing 'Happy Birthday'.
Although the band look as if they are enjoying themselves on stage, I don't
think they would be there if they didn't have to be.
So remember when you see Universal Love School on Top Of The Pops, they got
there the way you wanted them to: the hard way.