Simon Cheetham c 1980
and 2009 -
Pictures: Simon Cheetham
The final side of the 1978
triangle at Friars on October 23rd will be local boys The Disco
Students. Their main man Simon Cheetham is no stranger to Friars having
been a member and also performed three times with three different
acts, Heartbeat, The Disco Students and The Blood Oranges. He has been
busy in the studio but had a chat with the Friars website ahead of the
Since we did this
interview, we can confirm that Simon is planning to release a good old
fashioned 7" vinyl single which will be available at the Friars
gig......it is going to be a re-recorded I Met My Girlfriend At A Friars
Gig (with the real David Stopps impersonating himself rather than Simon
doing it) and the B side will be There's a Fire At Earth Records (which
Simon talks about below)
Also since this
interview, Graham Hocking to whom Simon refers, has passed away.
Friars Aylesbury Website:
Simon, welcome to the Friars Aylesbury website. The Disco Students are
back at Friars! It seems strange that all the bands playing Friars on
October 23rd all made their Friars debuts in 1978, in fact SLF appeared
two days before you when you played in Heartbeat supporting Ultravox.
What do you remember of that time, the Disco Students formed after
seeing Magazine at Friars in 1978 didn't you?
Heartbeat was before the
Disco Students, I had been in the Haircuts, arguably Aylesbury's first
punk group. That all went to pot and Heartbeat formed out of that and
the remnants of local band Orthi who I am sure you remember. Orthi split
and decided to embrace the new wave and asked me to join them. It seemed
a good idea at the time but in retrospect it wasn't. They were very good
musicians and I was fired up with new wave and punk and it didn't really
work. Our second or third appearance was Friars and that Ultravox gig. I
remember not being happy with the group within about about a week of
starting. It sounded great on paper and lot of people in Aylesbury
probably thought we were going to be big. I was flattered by being
approached by these great musicians but it never going to work. I was
disappointed with that gig. From that, Graham Hocking (drummer) and I
put together the Disco Students and by the Magazine date (Dec 1978)
people knew we putting the band together and at that gig we found a
bassist and guitarist and we literally put it together at a Friars gig.
Then the idea of the group really took off. The Haircuts was all about
proving I could be in a group, before that the idea was impossible as
you needed to be an ultra slick musician and punk came along and blew
that off. Having Graham with me was a great attribute as he was a
fantastic drummer and we got some great musicians together. We had the
ideas, the look and had the trappings of not being a rock group. We were
'bookish' and anti-rock. A lot of bands did that, like the Postcard
bands like Josef K and Orange Juice and then the likes of Gang of Four
and Joy Division. A post-punk anti-rock thing. We added good lyrics. The
idea of the Disco Students was to be in a group with people I would want
to see and that's always been my stance. We got it together, it was good
and we got it right. We played all over the country and we eventually
played Friars two years later in 1980. David Stopps had asked us several
times, but we were always playing all over the place. We played mad
gigs, looking back on it. It might be Middlesbrough on Thursday, Swansea
on Friday and then Lincoln on Saturday. But we picked up a following. We
then released South Africa House which John Peel played and we got
interest from Island Records. One of their bookers got us some really
good gigs for six months and played The Marquee five or six times. We
ere about to sign to Island and the A&R man went to Virgin. Virgin had a
subsidiary indie label called DinDisc (home at that time to OMD and
Martha and the Muffins) so our next two records were financed by Virgin.
They liked the records, but spending so much time travelling we made
rapid strides and levelled out for a little while. Some of the band got
impatient and we started falling out. Once one original member
leaves..... and then something trivial would happen and then I was left
as the only original member.
The last gig with Graham
Hocking was that Pauline Murray gig in 1980.
After that I was keeping
the group together which was a bit of a battle.
In terms of your future,
you weren't trying to be the local band having fun, you wanted to go for
it and get that record deal...
It was never my idea to be
the local group and do it for fun. The fun side was quite low down. it
was a necessity to have to do it. We were quite a miserable bunch,
misanthropic, it was the way we were. We took it ever so seriously. You
see some bands who will go 'that was fun' but was so far from our
philosophy. Stalinist people! There would be much bickering (laughs) if
someone had the wrong shade of shirt! The songs were written in a
certain manner and had to be performed in a certain way. Guitarists
couldn't do any rock stances....(laughs)..sounds like something from
North Korea! But that was how it was and that's how we wanted to push it
forward. He didn't want to be like most local bands. Which is great when
everyone's singing from the same hymn sheet.
Who knows...you could have
been the successful local band before Marillion....
Who knows.....but I still
cannot understand Marillion's success!
Controversial! I'm not
saying anything at this point!
Neither should I probably!
They're not everyone's cup
of tea possibly.
True, but now I am bit
older I can say good luck to them.
And Pete Trewavas (of
Marillion) was one of your band mates in Heartbeat!
Yes, he's a great
musician. I've always had great musicians in my band. I always make sure
of that. The current version of the Disco Students are great musicians
and they 'get it'. Some people rehearse as expected and then in front of
a crowd they think they're Ritchie Blackmore or something. Musicians
have left me and I've have to lose some too for thinking they're
Your third appearance at
Friars in 1983 was as The Blood Oranges.
I should have kept the
name (Disco Students) actually. I had two new musicians in the band and
they didn't want to keep the name. In retrospect I should have been
harder about it as it was a mistake. The music was alright but I lost my
way a bit for a few years to be honest. They weren't the right people
and what I should have done was have a break for a few years rather than
constant writing recording and gigging. This was a compromise which was
Your ideals then were presumably the same with trying to get
that record deal and the like?
As it is today, I still
have the same ideas and ideals as thirty years ago which hadn't met with
universal approval from record companies. It sound pretentious, but it
is an art form. Other local groups thought it was a laugh which is a
travesty. Without being too arty farty, it's important to be able to
perform original music.
Seeing others not taking
it too seriously must have been frustrating.
The rows...blimey, it's
shocking looking back on it (laughs). It's the way it is. People in the
band can understand the importance of it. We're not pissing about and
all the songs we write are meant as proper songs,
So to The Disco Students
2009, you've got a band you're happy working with....your last
appearance at Friars
was 26 years ago, so how different is it?
I don't see myself by the
pool in LA, but you have to be realistic. Of the 12 or 13 songs we will
do at Friars, about 5 of them have been written over the last couple of
years when I didn't have a band.
I know that today you've
been in the recording studio, so at Friars we can expect some new songs
as well songs like South Africa House?
Yes, and tracks from the
first records. The rest of these I have written myself over the
last two years. I've learnt, because I've had to, rudimentary guitar
which is good enough to write with but not to play live. When we did
Friars with Pauline Murray we (had by then) released all three records
and the whole set was brand new written the previous month. South Africa
House sold 1500 copies and people wanted to hear that and because we
were so anti-rock, we didn't (play it).
Those 1500 copies would
have got you in the chart today! Here's a mad idea for you. That 'I Met
My Girlfriend At A Friars Gig' which we had on the website.....we should
have an orchestrated internet word of mouth campaign like the Arctic
Monkeys, and have the big internet hit of the autumn!
Let's get The Disco
Students that hit!
You'll find no resistance
here! I've just written a new song.....There's a Fire At Earth Records.
It's about going through the indie records A-E and then the prog
rock.....the fire starts at Hairset next to Earth Records in their
kitchen and burns through the indie stuff and Otway's back catalogue,
it's work in progress!
That will be brilliant,
because just like I Met My Girlfriend, it makes loads of local reference
Right from the early days
I had songs about Aylesbury and Princes Risborough - it was the write
what you know thing. We had a song on Rough Trade recently.....they
picked up on 'I've Never Been On A Rough Trade Compilation' and that's
what it ended up on! The song writing is not crazy things about jesters
in hats but more mundane things about things that happen in life. The
Rough Trade thing was about being in the flat above the shop. And I did
meet my girlfriend at a Friars gig.
People will love it as
most people will have bought their Friars tickets from Earth Records in
the old days!!!
There's a line in it about
the Friars tickets being in ashes and the firemen being sorry they
couldn't save anything by The Clash! It's like being a diarist and
things are changing so fast in Aylesbury.
It's not the first time
you've made local reference points though....you did 'Do You Remember
Longwick' on the Aylesbury Goes Flaccid local compilation from around
That song was a recorded commentary on The
Haircuts' (and my) first ever gig in December 1977 when I was 18. There
was a riot ! So my style of writing goes all the way back!
As well as the music, you
write books as well.....
Yes, I have written a
couple of books too about football. Gladys Protheroe, Football Genius
and Well Up For It, a hooligan spoof. (They're available on Amazon). I
also paint under the name of the Timid Proud One and I also perform as
So you're an author, a painter and still the budding pop star! What
more could you want!
I was in David Stopps'
offices when he first heard I Met My Girlfriend....and he heard the
start and said "that's me isn't it?" and fell around laughing!
He has always been very
supportive of me.
Yes he has been. We're all
looking forward to seeing you on October 23rd!
This interview and its
content are © 2009 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not
be used in whole or in part without permission.