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Friars Interviews

Tony McPhee

friars appearances 08/06/70  17/04/71  02/11/73  20/03/76  01/06/09


The Groundhogs go back to the first incarnation of Friars at the New Friarage Hall where they played in 1970. They were already an established act at that time and went on to play across phases 2 and 3 of Friars. In 2009, they return to Friars as part of the 40th anniversary concert. The Groundhogs gig in 1971 was particularly significant. Had this gig not gone well, Friars would not have continued. Simple as. As it was, the place was packed...and the rest is history.

Here, we talk to the Groundhogs main man, Tony (TS) McPhee about the June 1st concert. Thanks for your time, Tony!

Hi Tony, thanks for talking to the Friars Aylesbury website. It's great that you are playing the Friars 40th anniversary concert on 1st June. This will be the first Groundhogs Friars appearance since 1976. The Groundhogs go back longer than of course, but what are your memories of playing at Friars?

I remember from reading the (Friars) website that we got the club out of trouble financially twice....

This is true. Funnily enough I was mentioning that 1971 gig to John Otway last week as he supported you at that gig.

I haven't a lot of time for journalists.....someone wrote at that time in one the papers that we took so long sound checking at that (1971) gig that John Otway had no time to sound check....that is utter bollocks (!) because we took so little time in sound checking as we didn't believe in it basically!

I have to say that Otway didn't say that either. The press, as usual just want something to sensationalise....

They just want to snipe.

I've been lucky enough to talk a wide variety of artists for the website for the 40th anniversary and with everyone, I've laboured the point that I am not a journalist, I am simply a fan. I don't want to compromise the goodwill with the website.

Journalists have always rankled with me as they print so much crap about us!

Seems a common problem with many bands who start to make a name for them up and knock them down.

With us they never built us up, just knocked us down.

That's even worse. Going back to the early 1970s and The Groundhogs are credited, as mentioned earlier, with saving Friars twice. You played a gig at Friars Bedford in 1970 which helped things nicely and then when Friars ended its Aylesbury exile and returned to the Borough Assembly Hall in 1971, that gig was very much make or break. It was packed to the rafters. Any special memories of that gig or vibes from the era?

It was great to have saved the club. In those days, when gigs were up and coming...we actually saved a venue in South Shields as well. It was a good feeling knowing you have kept a gig going. But it's gone in the mists of time really.

Sure. But your Friars history goes back to before when Friars was saved so you have a Friars pedigree. Your history though goes back to before Friars during the 1960s and you have maintained an audience all this time. You clearly enjoy it all.

Oh yes...mostly!

What has been your favourite era to play?

The early 1970s was the big time, but it was around 1975 when we split because things were getting out of hand with management and I made some wrong moves which eventually killed the band.

So these put the kibosh on the band for a few years....

Yes and after that the punk things was coming in. What I didn't realise was the punks loved the Groundhogs. It was crazy. They hated Yes, but they loved us. The Groundhogs were a punk band really.

When punk was kicking in, Yes, especially, were seen (rightly or wrongly) as the antichrist. But the punks did take to some bands..

Yes, us for one! Especially people like Captain Sensible who bought a Gibson SG because I played one. He uses one to this day.

Influenced by the Groundhogs!

Thank Christ for The Bomb was his favourite album at one point.

You last played Friars in 1976, coincidentally supported by John Otway again. This was at the Civic Hall where the June 1st gig will be. What do you remember from that era?

The mists of time again!

Do you see it as an honour that you've been asked to play at the 40th anniversary concert?

Oh yes!

Presumably it didn't take very long for you to accept the invitation?

About two seconds!

That's good! In terms of the line-up for the evening, there are bands who have played for quite some's a good line up isn't it?

Yes, I'm really looking forward to seeing the Pretty Things as we used to do a lot of gigs with them in the 1960s as we did with Edgar Broughton in the 1970s.

It's (the gig) going to be a great education for me as I am gemming up on music from that period as some of it's a little before my time. I've heard a lot recently and a lot of it is absolutely brilliant!

Apart from Yes!

On June 1st, are you expecting a nice good party atmosphere?

I hope so!

It's going to good recreating the early days of Friars right down to the oil wheels as well as three great bands.

We played in Doncaster some time back, where they had these oil wheels, but modern clones which worked in the same way.

That's the plan for June recreate the original atmosphere. When the tickets for this gig went on sale, many of the very original members from that first gig in 1969 were queuing up to get tickets.

Now you're about 46 years into the Groundhogs as a playing artist?

The Groundhogs name was brought in to name a blues band.

That name was influenced by John Lee Hooker wasn't it?

Yes, we had played with him when he was touring. He played originally just six dates (in the UK around 1964), then we did a full tour with him.

Before Friars as a name, did you play Aylesbury in the 1960s - the Borough Assembly Hall was known as the Grosvenor in the 60s.

No...I don't think so, although we might have played with John Lee Hooker (yes, other info suggests this may have happened - Ed)

Your 'Thank Christ For The Bomb' album.....John Peel picked up on that didn't he?

Yes, he played 'Soldier'...he had a sort of power. Like when he played Dave Edmunds' 'Sabre Dance', and it went straight in the charts the next week. He lent us 100 for our first P.A. He checked his bank account to make sure he had it and then lent it.

A nice little story that as John Peel was one of the genuine people who cared about the music right throughout his career. You got a lot of attention with 'Split' as well.

Yes, after Thank Christ For The Bomb had hit the charts, Split was the right thing to come up with afterwards. A good follow up.

It sold well didn't it?

I got a gold album for that and it's sold since. It keeps on selling. When I see my royalty statement, it's always Split on there!

Since then over the years, there's been many albums...

Mainly live albums as we only did one studio album in 1986.

Since 1986, you've concentrated on the live work and the gigging?

Yes, there's been a lot of live albums - the most recent one was of a concert in Sweden from 1976

You've still got an audience after all this time which is great. I must ask, how is Dave (Anderson, bass player who hasn't been so well recently)?

We were going to see him yesterday, but he was being checked out again, but he's OK. He's desperate to get back on the road. He just needs to sit back and do nothing.

Best wishes of course from all the Friars people.

You also do solo acoustic gigs with Joanna Deacon. How does that it as well received as the Groundhogs stuff?

Generally most people (attending the solo shows) want to hear Groundhogs songs so we do a couple at the end.

So you have two styles that work well for you back to back?

Yes, it's back to blues for the duets and modern-ish for the electric sets. A lot of modern bands are going back...I went back as far as I could with the blues to find stuff I wanted to hear. A lot of modern bands are now going back to the seventies to find their roots.

Very true! Tony, we really appreciate your time!

The Groundhogs official site

This interview and its content are 2009 Mike O'Connor/ and may not be used in whole or in part without permission.


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