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Neglected gems of rock'n'roll revived with a punk twist

Musician and actor Keith Warwick is reflecting on the fervent charms of rock'n'roll combo The New Piccadillys.

united FRONT: The New Piccadillys are carrying on the tradition of beat counterculture started in the Sixties and early Seventies in Glasgow  and Edinburgh.
united FRONT: The New Piccadillys are carrying on the tradition of beat counterculture started in the Sixties and early Seventies in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

"We do beat music with a punk approach, and we play punk music as a beat group," he says of the Glasgow four-piece, whose repertoire spans Tom Jones, The Ramones, The Kinks and The Clash. They play Glasgow King Tut's on January 18.

Formed "in a Hyndland lock-up" two years ago, the New Piccadillys' high-octane line-up comprises vocalist/lead guitarist George Miller (The Kaisers, The Styng Rites, Sharleen Spiteri), vocalist/rhythm guitarist Keith Warwick (Johnny McRotten in The Scottish Sex Pistols, ITV's My Parents Are Aliens), bassist Mark Ferrie (The Scottish Sex Pistols, The Kaisers) and drummer Michael Goodwin (the re-formed Poets, The Thanes, Preston Pfanz and the Seaton Sands). "We're all old friends, we all come from the same family tree of Scottish music – the family of rock'n'roll, beat and garage music," Warwick notes.

Glasgow and Edinburgh have long revelled in rock'n'roll and beat counterculture, from Sixties/early-Seventies pop troupes The Poets and The Beatstalkers, through Eighties garage-rock ensemble The Primevals and surf-punk instrumentalists The Beat Poets (both of whom are still active), via Nineties Medway-beat coxcombs The Kaisers and garage-psych aficionados The Thanes, to the latter-day licks of The New Piccadillys and exotic beat-freaks Los Tentakills. Why does Warwick think beat music has such a resilient local appeal? "I think maybe it's because Glasgow's so diverse as far as music's concerned, and there are so many different arms of the beat genre," he offers.

"See something like [filmic Sixties pop salute] Eighties Fan by Camera Obscura? I could listen to that all day."

Warwick continues: "But the main thing for me was that my dad gave me a Bush record player when I was young, and he gave me all these records – Beatles singles, The Searchers, and The Kinks' first album, which is still in my top five albums of all-time. It just sounds like a bomb going off, it has so much momentum," he says. He also credits these formative discs with instigating his inherent punk spirit. "When you listen to 1977, the B-side of The Clash's White Riot, it's an absolute Kinks riff, even the way the drums come in, everything about it. The whole punk-rock thing was fuelled by that energy – The Kinks'# first album, The Who, The Small Faces."

Miller, too, traces his love for rock'n'roll back to the punk explosion. "I remember going to see The Clash at the Apollo in Glasgow when I was 15, and they did [Vince Taylor's late-Fifties 12-bar blues jam] Brand New Cadillac. I was of the age where I was actually horrified that they were doing it – 'What? Why are they playing a rock'n'roll song? It should be punk,'" he laughs – "But looking back on it, it was great, because they knew where they were going with that stuff. And of course The Ramones influenced The Clash – White Riot was very Ramones-influenced – and they really had that pop thing going on, covering songs like [Bobby Freeman's Fifties R&B classic] Do You Wanna Dance and [Sixties rock'n'roll wig-out] California Sun."

It's fitting, then, that last year's debut 45 from The New Piccadillys was a slick and rollicking take on The Ramones' Judy Is a Punk, (Ramones producer Ed Stasium pronounced it "the best cover version ever"), and their forthcoming album will further forge and fire up ties between punk and rock'n'roll. "It's going to be a mix of Sixties covers, most of them fairly obscure," offers Miller. "It's quite enjoyable taking songs that were kind of lost a wee bit at the time. And we're doing stuff by Arthur Alexander [The Girl That Radiates That Charm], Slade [Coz I Luv U], The Clash [Complete Control] and The Dickies [You Drive Me Ape, You Big Gorilla]."

Miller sounds thrilled to be reigniting vintage songs, rather than composing new ones. "I didn't want to do another thing of trying to be an authentic beat group and writing lots of original songs in the style of that period – I'd kind of already done that with The Kaisers," he says. "So this time, we just got together, started chucking round ideas, and holed ourselves out in [rehearsal space/studio] the lock-up for the best part of a year. We wanted to make sure it was undeniably good fun to come and see. We worked really hard on that."

There are commonalities, too, among Miller's beat troupes: sonic virtuosity, raucous energy, and a polished, unified image come as standard. Miller is also a graphic artist who designed Betty Boo's record covers, among others: is visual identity integral to his music?

"It's not important to every band, but it's important to the New Piccadillys, and it was important to The Kaisers," he offers. "It's an impact thing. Plus we're not pushing individuality – we're pushing a common purpose. We're all dressed up to go to work. It's like The Hives, they do it and it works a treat."

But while Miller's impeccable quiff comes as standard, Warwick admits his is more of a challenge. "I've known George since I was 15, and he's always been a really big influence on me. But he's a task-master too, a real perfectionist – I mean, look at him. He looks like he's just walked out of a Corby Trouser Press. I look like I've just crawled out of a bin."

The New Piccadillys play King Tut's, Glasgow, on January 18

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