INTERVIEW: The Prisoners Graham Day Speaks!

INTERVIEW: The Prisoners Graham Day Speaks!

The Prisoners are the high octane, lethal injection 80’s mod/beat group who released sensational material at the time and are now going through a period of equally addictive sounds reforming for a spate of gigs and now ready to release some juicy new material. Graham Day is one of the original members who Gigslutz kindly caught up with for this exclusive interview:

Hi Graham, can you please tell me abit about your upbringing?

I was born in Portsmouth, my dad was in the Prison service so we moved around a bit. We moved to Rochester in 1977 and I got a place in the local grammar school which is where I met Allan, James and Johnny. We started the Prisoners a couple of years after that.

What was the first music you can remember hearing?

My mum was really into skiffle, and I remember hearing Lonnie Donegan a lot. My Dad was more into Ray Charles, as well as opera and classical. I wasn’t so keen on the opera, but I liked Ray Charles a lot.

When did you first start getting interested in creating your own music?

I happened to be out at the Pentagon shopping centre in Chatham, must’ve been 1979, there was a stage set up and a band playing called Wipeout. They were energetic and loud, it was really exciting. I didn’t know what kind of music it was at the time, but I later found out they called it R&B, and it was very influenced by Doctor Feelgood. Standing next to me was a lad I recognised from school, I didn’t know his name but we both were in awe of the gig and decided right there and then to form a band. He was Allan Crockford.

Initially, I started playing Bass and Allan played guitar. We had a singer and a drummer and played mainly punk and soul covers round the singer’s mum’s house. We started writing a few of our own songs and played a gig at Allhallows village hall in the summer of 1979. We were called The Numbers.

When did you first start singing? Who influenced you to start singing?

At some point the following year me and Allan decided to go it alone, having seen Johnny Symons playing drums in a school band at founders day and we decided to pinch him for our new band. We also decided to switch instruments, so he gave me his prized Gibson SG which his parents had bought him for his birthday, and I gave him my shitty Peavey bass (sorry Allan…).

As soon as I learned how to play a few chords I discovered that I could write songs. We didn’t have a singer so I had to do it. I experimented with a range of singers, trying to copy them. First J J Burnel from the Stranglers, then as I started discovering more music I wanted to be Phil May from the Pretty Things, then Steve Marriott….None of this worked very well at all and it took me years to discover my real voice.

How about playing instruments? Who influenced you to start playing?

My first real guitar influence was Syd Barrett. I knew I didn’t like typical rock guitar playing and was more intrigued with the way Syd hit the guitar and made unusual tones , more of a feel to it. I’ve always been drawn to musicians who play the right thing for a song rather than being a so called virtuoso, that’s never impressed me. The kind of players I like are not particularly known for for their guitar playing, like Steve Marriott.

What music/bands influenced the band at the time of forming?

We started the Prisoners as a 3 piece, and to start with we were influenced by the Pretty Things, Kinks, R&B, 60s Soul and the tail end of Punk. We were getting more and more into the Small faces so desperately wanted a Hammond organ. Johnny had a mate James Taylor who played the organ so we had a go with him. It was mind blowing the difference he made and it changed everything.

How did your music compositions form? Did an individual member have an idea for a song or was there always an element of jamming out material? 

In the early days I mostly came up with the songs , but as we progressed through the other albums I’d still come up with the majority of the basic melodies and lyrics but the band would mould and craft them into the finished songs together.

Was your initial audiences all contained in the Mod/scooter scene?

Our initial audience was made up of a real mixed bunch of old punks, a few mods but mainly music fans who didn’t really associate with any particular scene. We played a lot with our mates from Medway The Milkshakes and shared that audience. When we signed for Big-Beat for the WiserMiserDemelza, we were regularly gigging with their roster of bands which were predominantly Psychobilly bands. It seemed an odd mix, but we shared the same kind of energy and passion.

It wasn’t until 1986 when we signed with Countdown for our 4th album did we really start getting a predominantly Mod following.

Looking back on the 4 albums you released, A Taste of Pink! 1982, The Wisermiserdemelza 1983, The Last Fourfathers 1985 and In From the Cold 1986, are you particularly pleased with one of these releases, and would change anything?

I’ve always been very self-critical, and I’m rarely totally happy with anything I’ve released. But I love a taste of pink, purely because it is exactly what the Prisoners were at that time. We just played and recorded it pretty much live. I have mixed feelings about the WiserMiserDemelza. I like most of the songs but I don’t like the production and most of all I hate my singing on that album. I love the Last Fourfathers, again that’s what the Prisoners sounded like at that instant, and I think this was the happiest period for me. This is my favourite of our first 4 albums. I never really liked the In from the Cold album. Again it’s not really the songs, it just sums up a period where I think the band was starting to pull in different ways, and the production seemed to suck the life out of it. It’s a shame because gig-wise in 1986 the Prisoners were phenomenal, and we never captured that properly.

Having said all that I wouldn’t change anything, there’s no point.

When you were on stage were there ever elements of your performance where you were emulating stage movements or images you’d seen of bands you’d admired?

No I don’t think so, certainly not consciously.

Do you have any stand out live gigs from this time being a favourite?

Most gigs we did were pretty good, although in the earlier days we did a lot of gigs where hardly anyone turned up, particularly in the North of England.

I remember very fondly the gigs we did in Europe which were such great fun, especially in Belgium in the real early days, France and Italy. But I remember we did a European tour after we’d recorded In from the Cold but it hadn’t been released yet. I recall that being the best we ever played live.

In the past few years the original band have come back together to play a bunch of sold out live gigs, why reform now?

It’s actually a happy accident. We happened to all be at a local gig and at the end we found ourselves on stage playing a few Prisoners songs. It just felt really natural. The following year was the 40th anniversary of our first album A Taste Of Pink, so we organised a small local gig to celebrate. When news got out about that we had to put on 3 extra nights and they all sold out. It wasn’t supposed to be a reformation, just a one off show.

It’s been mentioned, mainly due to a photo of Johnny Symons in Abbey Road studios and a Marc Riley 6 Music sessions, you are on the verge of releasing new material. Is there any details you can give too what fans can expect?

Those Rochester gigs were such a good laugh and a brilliant atmosphere we decided to have a go at some new songs. We made a decision that if we did any new material it would be a total collaboration, and something we all felt a part of and a strong connection to. I thought it would be a challenge, as I don’t think any of us has every really written like that before, but actually it was easy and a total joy to be a part of.

We came up with 14 brand new songs in the space of a couple of months and went into Abbey Road studio to bang out the backing tracks live all in one session. We recorded the vocals in another studio and put a few overdubs on remotely at home.

The album is called Morning star and is released 10th May. It’s on our own label, 12 tracks on the vinyl and an extra 2 tracks on the CD.

I know people will be nervous (as we were) that the old magic may be gone, and the 40 years older Prisoners would be something completely alien. But I know Prisoners fans will be really happy with it, and relieved that it still sounds like us!

Friday 24th May you’re headlining maybe one of your biggest shows at London’s Roundhouse with Inspiral Carpets in support. What do you have planned for this gig? 

It’ll be the biggest gig we’ve ever done. We’re really looking forward to it, we have no plans for any trickery, we’re going to let the old songs and a few of the new songs do the ‘singing’.

Did you realise you had heavily influenced Inspiral Carpets?

Yes I’ve read that they mentioned us a few times over the years. I’m really grateful to them for joining us for this gig. They don’t need to support us, but we appreciate it. It’ll be a really memorable night.

Will you be recording the gig for fans to enjoy retrospectively?

We recorded the Rochester gigs and did a live stream, but it was a real pain, cost a lot of money and effort, and to be honest it didn’t prove to be as successful as we’d hoped. So we won’t be doing it this time.

Do you have any more gigs/festival appearances on the horizon?

As I said before this is not supposed to be a reformation. We’ll just see how this goes and take it one step at a time. Hopefully yes.

Have you all got your own solo projects going on at the same time? If so please go into some details

James is very busy with JTQ and other side projects. Allan has his band the Galileo 7 and a new project he’s working on. Johnny works abroad a lot, and doesn’t have time for any other musical projects. For me, I never really called time on the SolarFlares, Graham Day and the Gaolers and the Senior Service so we may do some gigs or new recording at some point. I also play guitar in a band from the USA called the Woggles, who have a new album out 31st May.

Finally, what’s on your turntable at present? 

The only thing on my turntable lately is the test pressing of the new Prisoners album, Morning Star!


The Prisoners play Camden Roundhouse on Friday 24th May. Tickets are available here