INTERVIEW: Former Seahorse Andy Watts is back with his new band The Lisbon Treaty

INTERVIEW: Former Seahorse Andy Watts is back with his new band The Lisbon Treaty

Former drummer with 90’s super group The Seahorses, Andy Watts has been an active musician since his face and drumming style became familiar to many on the covers of the weekly music papers and TV appearances alongside former Stone Rose John Squire. Fast forward to the present day Andy has an exciting new solo project The Lisbon Treaty which is about to unleash their electro dynamite tracks on the unsuspecting public:

Can you tell me about your upbringing?

Born in London but my northern accent developed at a pace due to my being fostered then adopted and moving around a great deal – Dublin, Southport, St Helens, West Yorks then Durham to York in my formative years. It was somewhat itinerant in the early days and I never really felt like I was from anywhere. Still don’t really – I’m a citizen of the world I suppose.

My folks really encouraged my musicality but it was double edge sword as my father had academic aspirations and struggled with my lack of interest in formal education. Growing up rurally in West Yorks in the 70s was a wonderfully free childhood soundtracked by Bowie, Glam Rock, Kate Bush, Ram Jam and Queen. Then we moved to the north east and I was bullied for being the “Yorkshire pudding.” I got heavily into cycling in my early teens (later becoming a courier in London in the early 90s) and saved my newspaper round money to purchase all the appropriate attire.

I made the fatal mistake of getting a pair of black winter leggings and was spotted by kids from my school who rapidly made it known that “Wattsy loves women’s tights.” On reflection all that ultimately made me stronger and developed a will to leave at the earliest opportunity. I still have close friends up there from decades ago, but as an adoptee, it made me more cautious regarding friendships and relationships. Being in a band always appealed from an early age – that sense of belonging and being able to escape the normalities and tedium of everyday life.

What was the first music you can remember hearing?

Having raised 3 daughters, I’m wholly aware we are conscious of hearing music externally when still cocooned in the womb, so I have no idea from that phase of sub-conscious life. From an early age, I guess it was Prokofiev’s Peter and The Wolf, Holst’s The Planets and Sergio Mendes (who I still love) which all may seem slightly pretentious (oh apart from Pinky and Perky and The Banana Splits), but it’s what my folks played on their Stereogram in Upper Hopton, West Yorkshire.

Couple that with See My Baby Jive by Roy Wood, Tie a Yellow Ribbon, ABBA (I got a tad obsessed with Agnetha – those perpetually sad eyes), the aforementioned Queen/Ram Jam and Hot Chocolate, it was a fairly eclectic start. Somewhat prophetically, my first self purchased 45″ single was Hard on Me by that sparkly nonce Gary Glitter. But this was the early 70’s yeh?

What was the first serious music you can remember hearing?

Not sure what you mean by serious, but I suppose the artists that really gave me the musical epiphany to want to be in their gang were Queen with Bohemian Rhapsody; ABBA – Dancing Queen (IMHO one of the best pop songs in the history of music – that CHORUS); Ram Jam – Black Betty; Kung Fu Fighting – Carl Douglas; La La Lucy – Mud; Loving You – Minnie Riperton and anything by Slade. As the late 70s arrived I became obsessed with punk and bought God Save the Queen by The Sex Pistols when I was 7.

I knew there was something subversive about the Jamie Reid cover art and the response from 2 hippies when I purchased it from Disque Records in Chester-le-Street. Upon returning home, my mother confiscated it. Never seen it since but I did manage to smuggle home the popcorn covered Silly Thing by the aforementioned Pistols some time later. Still got that 45″. Having subsequently heard Crass and The Exploited, it soon became apparent the Pistols were nothing more than the Nolan Sisters of punk. I also became obsessed with Gary Numan. Still have all the early vinyl’s and Tubeway Army. The cover is iconic and I painted it on my school bag. That melding of acoustic drums, fretless bass and synths blew my mind on The Pleasure Principle. Still does.

When did you start drumming?

From the age of 4 I think – pots and pans in the kitchen. My folks were very patient when it came to comestible appliance/utensil abuse on a daily basis. Mind you a paradiddle is a pain in the arse to play on Tupperware – no bounce back!

Did you take up any other instruments?

Yes – I’m not really a drummer in the traditional sense (never had lessons) as my first instrument is the guitar – I got to Grade 6 learning Classical for which I’m eternally grateful; it was a great bedrock for technique and an appreciation for melody, arrangement, dynamics and composition. I was allowed the guitar if I stopped biting my nails (I was a nervous kid) and capitulated, but upon reading that one of my favourite Spanish guitar composers Ferdinand Sor eschewed the use of nails and preferred the sound of the finger pads on strings, I got back on my filthy habit immediately and rebelled.

Still got that guitar; still biting me nails. Rebel kids – fight the power! I also sing (some would differ on that statement), play piano, bass, banjo, ukulele and harmonica albeit in a somewhat random sense. I always wanted to be a bassoonist for some strange reason; actually Peter’s grandfather in Peter and the Wolf is portrayed with a bassoon. Silly me; forgot about that.

Who influenced you to get started with music?

I suppose the aforementioned bands and artists. Perhaps the blame solely lies with 70s Top of the Pops. And ‘Dial a Disc’. You could dial 161 on the phone and listen to your favourite pop stars back in the day. How very postmodern. How utterly antiquated. Actually – thinking about it, there were a couple of kids TV shows in the early to mid 70s; one called Banana Splits and the other, Animal Kwackers.

Both featured anthropomorphized characters that played in bands, but the former was slightly more sinisterly surreal as Boots the tiger had an eye patch and all had huge disproportionate heads looking to camera with a thousand yard stare. They were rumoured to be none other than members of Slade havin’ a proper laugh and covered tracks by The Beatles and The Sweet. The Splits Drooper and Bingo were my bessy mates back then. Definitely a huge influence; and Animal from The Muppets natch. He taught me how to hit hard.

After countless shows, my knuckles would be bleeding. Kids TV in the 70s was proper psychedelic thanks to dropping lots of brown acid in the 60s perhaps.

Were you in any bands before The Seahorses?

Indeed – around 16 I think, most of which amounted to nothing. One of my all time faves from York was The Burning Wickermen with Tom Beaufoy and Owen Priestley whom I’m still in touch. It felt like a band of brothers. Linus were a great post punk outfit who got a single of the week on Radio 1 (get me). One of the worst was a band called Sten. I dyed my hair blond, wore the correct trousers yet got sacked for not fitting in and found myself in The Seahorses 4 months later. They did me a favour.

Had you heard of John Squire?

Of course. I used to dance to Fools Gold at GG Barnums in York when I was a student. Love that track.

How did you join The Seahorses?

A degree of nepotism I guess – we all knew each other from the York scene sans John, and he wanted a singing drummer. I was invited to audition at a cottage in the Lakes and got the gig. I ignored the initial phone calls as I thought it was friends winding me up and I’d had enough of music at that point in my life. I was very settled in a cosy design job and hadn’t picked up any instruments for eons.

Why did you leave the band?

I didn’t – it was an eviction due to the fact that I stood up for what I believed in and saw how we were being collectively exploited. I’d endured a degree of abuse such as being told to “drum like a drummer” in front of crew and press by John in a rehearsal at the then Terminal Studios in London, when he knew full well my ex wife nearly miscarried my eldest daughter Stella. I went off to the toilet and wept. Penny Smith the photographer was also there, who took the Clash London Calling album shot, which made it all the more embarrassing. Should’ve walked then.

I was asked to sign my rights away from a £1.3m publishing deal (still got the contract in my attic) of which I saw £6k when I was sacked. I was told by the management to get a solicitor who informed me that if I didn’t sign the agreement, (some bloke from Statham Gill Davies), I’d be out of the band. So many groups have been historically more fair and socialist when it comes to publishing etc such as The Beautiful South (Paul Heaton has just donated a load of his money to staff at the soon to close Q Magazine; what a legend), Supergrass and err, Coldplay to name a few. Combine that with seeing us on the front cover of Select magazine, which was ultimately a metaphor of what was to come – the 3 of us photoshopped into the palm of John’s hand looking like mini musical minions, it wasn’t a great all round experience other than playing live.

And to be completely honest, I wasn’t performing at my best due to the amount of gear we were all taking and my realization one morning in Japan that it was all utterly flawed when the rhythm section were put in separate transport with the crew. Which was fine as I preferred hanging out with the roadies. Utterly funny folk and no pretention. If nothing else, it taught me how to operate with a degree of equanimity. It was a pretty ignominious departure, but you live and learn. I also got mind numbingly bored by blokes perpetually asking me “when are you gunna get a hat like Reni?” I look a proper twat in a hat.

Did you continue in music when you left The Seahorses?

Of course – my time in the group was only for a year or so and I adore making music on any level. It’s an inherent part of who I am – it enriches me on so many levels and if it moves others then that’s truly fulfilling. I’ve since supported and worked with artists like Tindersticks, Noel Gallagher, Natural Born Chillers (live drum n bass which was ace), John Butler Trio, Noel Gallagher, John Bramwell (I am Kloot) and Ben Ottewell (Gomez). I think my first solo show was in front of 2,500 folk at Shepherds Bush Empire which was a wonderful experience if slightly unnerving as I’d spent most of my working life sat at the back watching band mates bums bob up n down in time to my beats.

I’ve played in other bands since, but nothing with the success of The Seahorses, for which I’ll be eternally grateful – I got to fulfil so many childhood dreams in that short space of time, from getting on Top of The Pops to playing Glastonbury and touring the world to supporting U2 and playing to audiences of up to 65,000 people. I’ve been very lucky and blessed to be a small part of popular culture – oh and getting a massive compliment off Dave Grohl regarding my drumming n singing. We became mates for a while – he never calls now.

What are you up to now?

When not making music, I’m an art director and designer. I’ve also raised 3 beautiful daughters, Stella, Rosa and Freya. I’m a very lucky man. I’ve decided to give songwriting and singing a break as I’ve been doing it for 20 odd years and frankly there are a plethora of folk way better at it than me. I did enjoy playing some online shows recently and raised over £900 for the NHS.

I also recorded some new tracks which have evolved into an album under the moniker The Lisbön Treaty (always wanted an umlaut in a band name like Motörhead, so I’m happy with that). It’s myself playing drums and synths and all completely instrumental with no guitars. It’s a short sharp acidic racket, and I’m really enjoying the process of creating. Most tracks are about 2:50 long with a basic kit set up of snare/hi hat/kick and ride plus a utilitarian use of synths. Say what you need to convey and move on.

You’ve recently unveiled a new single with an almost Kraftwerk sound, can you explain the reasons for the sound?

Kraftwerk? I’ll take that thank you. It’s perhaps a little more sonically corpulent than them but definitely in the right sonorous sphere but The Lisbön Treaty is certainly less mellifluous. The debut single is out on Friday 30th October on the usual digital platforms, followed by a second single in December. I’ve always adored abrasive music and I’ve left drumming alone for too long, so it felt like a natural process to return to. A kind of homecoming. There’s something brutally honest about it, even though the instruments are synthetic other than the drums, plus I also feel it mirrors these strange times; I’ve released some anger through these sounds. I suppose I aim to nail down what I’m hearing in my head – I almost know what the timbre should be and how these would mix; it all feels quite instinctual which is equally refreshing.

It’s a thin line between what’s planned and what comes naturally; instinct and process. A very different pathway than songwriting, and generally a much quicker process. The Japanese have a word for music – ongaku which translates to sound you enjoy. I’m enjoying the process more than anything I’ve done in recent years, and the interest from friends and fans has been wonderful.

Who else is in you band, The Lisbon Treaty?

It’s a solo project. I guess you could say the second member is my mate James Stewart who engineers the tracks. He’s an amazing musician and producer in his own right and a joy to work with. You can find him on my Lisbön Treaty Instagram followers.

Is there an album in the offering for the future?

If there’s enough interest in the singles, then yes – there’s 18 tracks of varying melodics and corpulence. I think it’s around 45 minutes; all short n tasty sonics. It’s titled The Annual Report of The Lisbön Treaty.

Do you hope to do some dates after lockdown?

Absolutely – I adore playing live and have some friends lined up who’d play 80’s keytars. That would be utterly resplendent and great fun. There’s so much bottom end in these tracks, they’d really rattle a dance tent at a festival.

You’re in discussions about doing a book aren’t you?

Well, I’ve been writing about my journey through music coupled with adoption and seeking adulation and acceptance through the medium of music. It’s tentatively titled Sorted, Snorted and not Deported. I’m currently about 25,000 words in. There’s tales of crew like my dear friend Lloyd Massingham rescuing me from getting a kicking off Hells Angels in Stockholm (I apparently pissed on one of them in a club), amongst other cliches, but the book has a serious context too – how much I struggled with adoption and the realisation that family can’t be relied on in dark times.

Folk also ask about what it’s like being in a band with John and I guess that’s one of the unique selling points of the book – as far as I’m aware, I’m the only person to write about this. As for John, I’ll let Mani sum him up. He said this to me at John Henry’s studios in London when Primal Scream were rehearsing next door (assume strong Mancunian accent) “Don’t ever trust our Johnny boy – he won’t call you if yer entire family get wiped out in a plane crash to see how you are.”

Finally, what’s on you turntable at present?

Right this moment Glen Campell. Looking through the records near the front over the last few days, Boy Azooga, Grizzly Bear, Tortoise, Gerry Mulligan, Billy Preston, The Jesus Lizard, Public Enemy, Richard Groove Holmes, Earl Grant, Au, King Gizzard, Englebert Humperdink, David Soul, OMD, Gary Numan, Clarence Carter, Jaques Lucier, Helmet, Fugazi, Winifred Atwell, The Beta Band, Matthew E White, Sampha, Cinemtatic Orchestra, Sammy Davies Jnr, Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston, Dusty Springfield, Mule (X and 29 is a killer track), Dr John, The Arcs, Darkstar and countless Northern Soul compilations. Gotta love a dance.

The Lisbön Treaty’s debut single 001 is out on Fri Oct 30. You can preview it and pre-order here. The band can also be found at their Twitter, YouTube and Facebook pages