THE DENTISTS

  History

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A SHORT HISTORY OF THE DENTISTS

A few kids at school, including myself, had guitars and used to form various 'bands' without actually getting any further than jamming around each others' houses. However one schoolmate, Mark Matthews, knew someone who had a drum kit – which was a rarity. This was his old junior school friend Ian Smith from Rochester Mark got us together in a band with a synth player called Brady although he was a bit of a futurist and left fairly early on. In 1982 and 1983 we played a handful of low-key gigs at the Stable in Strood, the MIC and a couple of private parties, mostly under the name The Ancient Gallery. We tried out a couple of singers but neither of them was really any good. Our early influences were post-punk like the Bunnymen, Joy Division, Orange Juice and some 60s stuff like The Doors and the Velvet Underground. Me and Ian started getting more and more into 60's garage and psychedelia.

The big change came when Mick Murphy joined. We were introduced to him through a mutual friend. He really liked our stuff and it was obvious we needed a singer. His band (The Bards) as breaking up so he joined us. We started writing a lot of new songs and started gigging in April 1984. We played week in week out in Medway initially at places like the The Good Intent and The Nags Head and we seemed to build up a big following really quickly. The Prisoners also helped us out by letting us support them in London quite a few times.

The Medway music scene was very 50s and 60s influenced, which attracted me in a way, but what was really refreshing was the attitude of playing with simple, basic raw energy, completely out of step with the manufactured pop of the early eighties. It attracted a big audience of kids who wanted nothing to do with the Duran Duran’s and Culture Club’s of this world. The Milkshakes and The Prisoners were the most popular bands but there were many others in similar moulds like Wipeout, The Gruffmen, The Wild, The Outer Limits, The Heroes, The Offbeats. There was a strong ethos about the right way to record (i.e. quickly, with vintage gear, and sounding as live as possible). We were definitely attracted and influenced by this whole scene without ever being 100% part of it, in that we were also inspired by contemporary groups like The Smiths, REM and the Go Betweens.

At the end of 1984 we recorded a single called "Strawberries are growing in my garden (and its wintertime)" at Woolley in Sheerness. Allan Crockford of the Prisoners produced this and we got it distributed through Backs in Norwich, who were part of the "cartel" of independent distributors. It was pretty easy to get a record distributed at that time and that opened a lot of doors. We quickly followed that up with an LP "Some people are on the pitch they think it’s all over it is now"

In 1985 we continued to play often in Medway, Churchills's in Chatham now being the main focal point, but we got a lot more gigs in London and started getting a bit of a following there. We often took a lot of Medway people up in hired coaches. We got a couple of mentions in the national music press but nothing major. There was quite a strong underground fanzine culture then so you could build up a reputation without exactly being music press darlings. We recorded a mini-LP "You And Your Bloody Oranges" in Norwich. This was Backs’ idea and we were quite keen to record somewhere different but the studio owner/engineer didn’t really get what we were doing and saddled us with quite a modern 80’s production sound, which we weren’t at all happy with.

Early in 1986, for reasons to lengthy to go into here, Ian was sacked and we got Alun Jones in as a replacement. He had been previously in the Apricot Brigade and The Pressure. As soon as Alun joined we recorded another EP "Down and out in Paris and Chatham". Later in the year we had our first gigs in Europe, which was a huge eye opener. It started when some fans in France invited us over for a gig and an agent from Belgium, Peter Verstraelen got interested too. He booked us some gigs in Belgium first and then we went back early in 1987 to do a three week tour including Germany, Switzerland , Denmark etc. We really loved playing overseas as bands were treated so much better by promoters and the audiences tended to be a lot more enthusiastic and open than a cynical London audience.

We seemed to have reached a peak in England in the winter of 86/87 where we got support slots on a couple of bigger gigs and had bits and pieces of music press coverage. It was the height of the C86 era and although we never felt part of that scene it did us a few favours. We reissued Strawberries and it got runner-up single of the week in Smash Hits! We also recorded a Radio 1 session for the Janice Long show and got played by Peel and Kershaw. However things seemed to tail off a little bit after that we'd probably missed our big window of opportunity by the time our next EP "Writhing on the Shagpile" came out. We weren't very good at playing the music business game and although we had a few people helping us out we never had serious management. Mark, our bass player, did a great job as player/manager, but we were always too distrusting to completely hand over control to an outsider.

From then we turned most of our attention to Europe and luckily a Belgian label called Antler saw us play and wanted to sign us up. They issued a compilation of the last two EPs and some earlier tracks, called "Beer Bottle and Bannister Symphonies" and then a new EP "The Fun Has Arrived" in 1988, neither of which really did that well. We continued to hop over to Belgium for weekend gigs, festivals and mini-tours whenever we could and were enjoying the gigging. Antler’s game plan was to try and license us to a major label. They paid for us to record five tracks for them in 1989 in Belgium which they touted around. We could see the sense in that but we would have still liked to have released something in the meantime. Frustrated with the lack of action the band went through something of a mid-life crisis around this time, got hooked up with the latest would-be manager, and even changed our name to the Wizards Toys for one gig. Luckily we saw sense and changed it straight back again. By mid-1990 still with no interest from the majors Antler eventually decided they would revert to plan B and release an album on their own label, so we recorded another 6 songs, this time in Coventry.

The LP was called "Heads and How to Read Them" and it was 1991 before it came out, our first release for nearly three years. It was recorded on a far bigger budget than we’d been used to. It’s not bad as a mainstream pop album in the territory of the Lightning Seeds or the Beautiful South, but it really didn’t sound like us at all. We went out on a 4-week European tour to promote the album but Alun left the band just before we were due to leave. So we took on our third drummer Rob Grigg as an emergency replacement. Rob was much more "rock" than Alun or Ian, which we thought might be a problem but he was excellent drummer and made the whole band sound infinitely better so he became a permanent fixture.

The tour was great and we did a couple of excellent festival dates in the summer. One of the singles from the LP "Beautiful Day" apparently got played all the time on Belgian daytime radio! However in the cold light of day the LP had not sold enough and, as Antler didn’t really want to spend any more money on us that was really the end of the road with them. It could have spelt the end for the band but we were enthused by our new line up and demoing what we thought was our best material ever, and another major avenue opened up in the States.

Two guys from New York, Jim McGarry and Bob Wall, both obsessive music fans and lawyers, had been writing to us for for some time and really wanted to get us over to the States to play. Jim decided to make the move into representing bands and of course started with his favourites The Dentists. He sent our stuff to a few labels and got us over to play the CMJ (College Music Journal) seminar in New York in late 91. It was amazing to learn that we had a small underground following in the States, and seemed to have built up quite a reputation without realising it. We went back the following year to the New Music Seminar and were signed up by a label called Homestead. Like Antler they started off with a compilation of our early stuff, a 22 track CD called "Dressed" and then in 1993 a collection of newer stuff called "The Powdered Lobster Fiasco", the first stuff with Rob playing on it.

We went back to the States quite a few times and a head of steam was building up. Eventually we signed to a major label, East West, part of Warners. Our first record for them was "Behind the Door I Keep The Universe" and, to promote it, we went out on a 6-week tour in the US and Canada, supporting Japanese all female band Shonen Knife. We also made our one and only video for a single from the LP "Gas" which was aired on MTV a couple of times. We also got to number 8 on the national college radio airplay charts. Things seemed to be going better than ever but once again when it came to actual unit shifting it didn’t really happen for us.

We recorded a second album for East West in 1995, called "Deep Six", produced by Wharton Tiers who had worked with Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jnr. We were really pleased with it and thought our songs were getting better and better but the album didn’t take off at all. This time there was no tour, no video and it got a disappointing college chart placing. We decided it wasn't working with East West and left the label before they could drop us. There were a couple of other small labels interested and a would-be publisher even paid for us to record some tracks with Mike Hedges, but it felt like we'd really gone as far as we could go. Although we’d had our share of disappointments before, there had always been something more promising on the horizon. But this time it seemed that it could only go downhill from now on. I decided to call it a day and The Dentists officially ceased to be in September 1995.

Bob Collins