There have been a number of musical phenoniums from decade to decade that have spawned exciting new groups; the 60’s gave birth to a thousand guitar bands including The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Small Faces; late 80’s Madchester which helped propel The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, The Inspiral Carpets plus mid 90’s britpop saw Oasis, Blur and Pulp championed. Late 70’s mod revival period started no doubt by The Jam’s emergence, saw a smattering of suited and booted bands pop up out of nowhere; Secret Affair, Merton Parkas and Squire to name 3 bands that instantly spring to mind. The Step are another that sprung to life like a jack in a box.
Taken direct from the sleeve notes of their fabulous new release on Acid Jazz records offshoot Countdown Records ‘the band formed in January 1980 after a gig at the Moonlight Club when Chris, John, Mike and Steve of headline band, “Scandal”, asked the support band’s vocalist Paul to form a soul band with them. With the addition of brothers Tony and Peter (Sax & Trumpet respectively), The Step was born.
‘The band released 5 singles with CBS before splitting up in the latter part of 1981. This album a collection of outtakes, demos, live studio recordings – as well as a couple of very early, raw live recordings (“Satisfaction” and “Breakin’ Down The Walls of Heartache” were recorded at the band’s first ever gig!).’ The release is fantastic slice of retro foot tapping British soul. Original material Girl, the fantastic I Don’t Wanna Know, Let Me Be The One and You Want It, You Got It are power pop numbers in the finest form, with a genuine slice of ecstatic youthfulness, the band sadly didn’t rival the likes of Haircut 100 or The Blow Monkeys who released similar floor filling numbers.
As became the normal with mod revival bands, paying homage to your musical heroes exhibited through covering tracks that influenced the original material was part and parcel of the live in concert experience; Dance To The Music/Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag no doubt had the mods shifting all their best moves in their Levi’s, Shake! gives a nod towards Otis Redding and Ronnie Lane who exhibited this fine number up on their respective stages, Sweet Soul Music has become a staple number in any mod/soul loving beat loving gang. This new collection should become a firm favourite with anyone that enjoys The Prisoners, The Clique and Groove Tunnel, a mighty fine collection full of cool grooves leaving the listener wishing there was more hidden gems from this sadly forgotten soul.
When did you start singing? Who were your influences?
I started singing at a very early age – I used to take part in all of the musical productions when I was at school. We were very fortunate to have a music teacher & a headmaster that used to write and put on musical productions in various theatres in North London, so this was a pretty good grounding for me. I also played in numerous bands whilst I was at school. My greatest influence has always been the late, great Sam Cooke. Other notable influences for me are Wilson Pickett, David Ruffin, Otis Redding & Aretha Franklin.
Before joining The Step were you in any other bands?
My first serious gigging band was called The Jugglers (named after a track on the first Average White Band album “Show Your Hand”). This line-up included the future drummer from Wang Chung. I was 15 when we played out first gig at The Marquee in Wardour Street supporting a band called the Foster Brothers – we used to rehearse at the Foster Brothers drummer’s studio, Easy Street, just off Bethnal Green Road. We were fortunate enough to land more supports with them (including a gig at York Hall) as well as picking up local gigs at numerous bars in the East/North London area. Our live set consisted of a mixture of original material and cover versions (featuring songs from Donny Hathaway, Average White Band, The Temptations, The Supremes, etc).
The Step, how did the band form?
I was in a mod band called The Side Effects playing cover versions such as Back In My Arms Again, All Or Nothing and My Girl. We landed a support gig with a band called Scandal at the Moonlight Club in West Hampstead in early January 1980. After the gig I was approached by the guys from Scandal (John, Mike, Chris and Steve) and their manager Ray, who asked me if I’d be interested in forming a soul band with them. I jumped at the opportunity and two further members Tony & Peter Simon (sax & trumpet respectively) were recruited and consequently The Step were born!
Did the band form as a consequence of the Mod Revival movement?
I’m not really sure – I’d been a mod for some time (along with other band members) so I think it was fairly inevitable that this was the direction that the band would take. I was going out to see lots of the bands around at the time that were really big on the mod scene including The Q-Tips, The Jam, Secret Affair and Dexys Midnight Runners and as I mentioned earlier the “mod” sounds of the ’60s were a huge musical influence on what I’d been into. I think we were all really into that scene.
Did it take long for the band to write their own material?
No not at all! We had some pretty prolific songwriters in John McSkimming, Chris Copping and Tony Simon so the quality original material was there from very early on.
How did the band come across some of the tracks that you covered?
They were things that we’d been listening to for a long time – for example “634 5789”, “Shake” and “House Party” and we wanted to play covers that complemented the original material the band was coming up with.
What about live gigs, did it take long for the band to perform live on stage?
We rehearsed for three solid weeks from formation in mid-January 1980 above The Lordship pub in Tottenham and then played our first gig at the London School of Economics early in February. Other early notable appearances included Dingwalls and The Music Machine (both in Camden Town), The Bridge House in Canning Town and The Marquee in Wardour Street.
Did you form a decent following at your gigs?
We built up a really strong fan base at the gigs (which were coming thick and fast!), especially with the mod following – we were fortunate to land reviews with the popular music press of the day (including Sounds, NME, Melody Maker and Record Mirror), which helped to build the profile of the band across the country.
Were many record labels interested in signing the band?
Yes, there were a few major labels interested in signing the band including EMI and RAK (where we recorded our first set of demos) but we eventually opted to sign with CBS/Epic & managed to persuade them to resurrect the Direction label (where the original version of “Breakin’ Down The Walls of Heartache” by Johnny Johnson & The Bandwagon was released amongst other soul classics!) to release our material.
You eventually signed for and released some records on the Direction/Epic Label. Looking back are you still happy with the singles and how the band sounds?
Yeah – looking back, in retrospect, there are always things that we could’ve improved on – however it’s all a part of a learning curve. But listening back to the singles, I’m still pleased with the way that the band sounds & the way that they turned out – especially “Tears That I Cry” which is my particular favourite.
What was it like playing with the likes of The Kinks, Elvis Costello, Secret Affair and The Q Tips?
Brilliant – all fantastic artists & those gigs have all lived long in the memory! One in particular I’ll never forget was the first gig we played supporting The Kinks at Aylesbury Friars – Ray Davies came up to me and introduced himself and shook hands, told me he had a copy of the single (“Love Letter”) & that he hoped that we did really well. You never forget things like that especially when you’re just a youngblood!!
Why didn’t the band release an album back then?
In all honesty, I’m not really sure – but I do know that a lot of it was down to record company politics.
How did the band eventually break up?
We were working intensely – lots of gigs, rehearsals, recording and I think that Tony, Pete & Steve became a little disillusioned with things. John, Chris, Mike & me carried on for a bit (flirting with different ideas, etc) until we decided to call it a day.
What have you been doing since the band broke up?
I DJ-ed extensively after the band split up (and have continued to do so!), flying the flag playing funky, soulful, mod & jazzy sounds, but I’ve always kept my hand in singing with different bands. I was in a soul band called The Motivators for a while and we gigged fairly extensively around the capital in the mid-1980’s – we released one single, a cover version of The Temptations song “I Wish It would Rain”. I then joined a revamped version of the Q-Tips as lead vocalist and I also did a stint with Brad from The Specials northern soul outfit, The JB All Stars.
Whilst continuing to DJ, I formed a production company with one of my oldest friends, Stewart Blandermer at the end of the 1980s (from The Q-Tips) & we released several records through Polydor, Chrysalis, 2Kool, Virgin, etc. We also remixed tracks for other notable acts including the Average White Band & The JB’s (Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley & Pee Wee Ellis).
2022 and we now see a fantastic new album released via Countdown Records. How did this come to fruition?
I appeared as a guest on The Modcast with Eddie Piller and we talked about the possibility of putting together a “Lost Step album” for release through Acid Jazz. Eddie had released “Let Me Be The One” as one of the tracks on the 4CD box set “Eddie Piller presents The Mod Revival” and I believe this re-awakened an interest in the band.
Who supplied the material for the album?
John McSkimming (Guitarist in The Step) & myself had been speaking regularly – we put on our thinking caps and between us we worked hard and pulled together a selection of completely unreleased material recorded by the band – the album features 13 cuts – seven originals and six covers.
The band sound fresh and as relevant as ever, would you agree?
Yeah, listening back to the album I’m really happy with it. The guys did a great job in remastering the tracks – in my humble opinion, it sounds as fresh and as vibrant as ever.
I know Steve is no longer around, but do you think we’d ever see a reformation of the band?
I think it’s more than a distinct possibility! As I mentioned earlier, John and myself speak regularly about this and I know that Chris and Mike are both also really excited about the prospect of getting The Step back out there once again. John is at present trying to locate Peter and Tony to see if they are also interested in the project going forward.
What are you up to these days?
I moved to the north of England towards the end of the 1990s and I continue to keep DJ-ing & singing, doing gigs with my Soul/R&B band The Stax Brothers.