Back in England in the late 1970’s, a new sound — dark vibes, heavy drums, spooky lyrics — began to make its rounds around the country. The result would be bands like Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Sisters of Mercy. However, there was one in particular that had such a dark image that they are practically considered a Halloween staple: Northampton’s Bauhaus. Guitarist Daniel Ash and drummer Kevin Haskins didn’t stop there, though, as other successful groups like Love and Rockets and Tones on Tail and even some solo work would later be created by the two. Now, the duo are back on the road as Poptone, with bassist Diva Pompe, Haskins’ daughter, to help out. FPH got the chance to speak with the group recently about their various projects, the beginnings of post-punk in England, and the craziest shows they played while in Bauhaus.
Free Press Houston: Daniel, can you talk a bit about what Poptone is? Where does the group derive from? In a sense, is it a “supergroup”?
Daniel Ash: No, not a supergroup, no. Poptone is a vehicle to play — it’s like a retrospective tour of the three different bands, primarily Tones on Tail, Love and Rockets, and a little splash Bauhaus. It’s been about 30 or 35 years since we’ve played the Tones stuff, and there seems to be a demand for it, so now felt like a good time. But going back to the original question, Poptone is a vehicle to tour. Poptone just sounded right. The whole thing was going to be called “Slice of Life,” which I still think would’ve worked. We couldn’t use that name, though, because someone else got it.
FPH: I read the group’s interview with LA Weekly and they — paraphrasing — called it a band without being a band. Could this lead to new, original material down the road?
DA: [laughs] I don’t know. It’s up in the air at the moment. Right now we’re just concentrating on — I mean, I’m feeling this is a project just for this tour. That was the original idea for this. I’ve been asked for years to get the Tones stuff going again. But I couldn’t do it without bassist Glenn Campling, because it wouldn’t be the same. Out of respect for him, I wouldn’t call this Tones on Tail, because it’s not the original members. Also, we’re doing stuff from the other bands. The way things are working out, it’s a retrospect for retrospective touring. I’m not feeling it at the moment for new material, it’s just a vehicle to play the stuff Kevin and myself did a while back. For me, and I think I can speak for the others, it was pretty much a nightmare 24/7. To create music is a passport to get out of your hometown.
Bauhaus formed in the late ’70s — I’ve read 1978 — in Northampton, England, which is about 100 miles or so from Manchester. You guys were one of the biggest bands from there and I imagine that you were going directly against Joy Division at that time. Was there serious competition between the two groups? What about competition between the cities in general?
DA: No, we were in competition with ourselves. No one else. Joy Division came along, then New Order. At that time it was like a post-punk thing. It was pretty dismal in England: The bad weather and the economy was really sucking hard at that time. It was terrible. The music that we created came from the bleakness of where we came from which was Northhampton. We weren’t exactly in southern California sunbathing. That’s why the music sounds the way it does. I personally don’t remember being in competition with any of the bands, we just wanted to be part of the whole thing and get out of the rut of having a 9-5 job in your hometown. Good ‘ol Northampton.
No competition between the cities either. People we preoccupied if they were musically inclined. First of all, it was having a reaction against all of the old farts that came before like, I don’t know, ELO. No, not ELO — they were great. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about Emerson Lake & Palmer. All of that prog rock. I know for myself it was a reaction against all of that big time. I find prog rock to be unbearable. I’m more of an Iggy Pop person. Those multi-millionaire musicians that were twiddling away showing off that they could play. It didn’t mean much to anyone. That’s why the whole punk thing happened, when when I saw the Sex Pistols on TV for the first time I got pretty excited about it. It was something I hadn’t seen since David Bowie in ‘72. The Pistols came along in ‘76 and that sent me on a wobbler. That was a huge influence for us as well as the whole punk movement, which was, as I said, a reaction against the old farts. So I don’t remember any competition between those bands. If anything, we liked those bands. We adored Joy Division. I remember hearing “Atmosphere” when it came out on John Peel or whatever. We were really appreciating those bands. They were in the same boat as us, I suppose. No competition, just admiration.
FPH: When Bauhaus first hit the road on tour, that must’ve been insane. It’s cliche to ask, but how were you perceived? Did people “get it” instantly?
DA: Okay, here’s the deal. When we first really went out, we were supporting a band called Magazine. We don’t think we got a real good response. What was great about that was, people either loved us or contested us. There was no middle ground. So we knew we were doing something right. The first real tour we went on, we actually paid about three grand to support Magazine. We blew them off stage every night and it was brilliant. In fact, Magazine broke up after that tour. So we definitely did our part. I do remember people leaving after we played. A substantial amount of the audiences after we were on. We were on, you know. Then it blossomed from there.
FPH: When Love and Rockets and Tones on Tail came along, was it the same audience that saw you on that tour with Magazine?
DA: No, Love and Rockets were much more white t-shirts and jeans. There were a lot of people — I don’t know, maybe I’m being presumptuous here. I recall Kevin, actually, saying L&R fans don’t necessarily like Bauhaus and Bauhaus fans don’t necessarily like L&R. Kevin, you should answer that question.
Kevin Haskins: Separate crowds, a lot of the time. I never really thought about that. I mean, I don’t really have an opinion on that.
DA: I thought I remember you saying –
KH: No, Dan.
DA: “Bauhaus fans don’t like Love and Rockets.” I said “Oh, really? Okay.”
KH: Well I remember when we first toured with Tones on Tail, as well as some of the older Bauhaus fans do, they had the logo painted on the back of their leather jackets. They were all sitting on the stage with their backs to us while we were playing, as if “we hate that fact that you disbanded Bauhaus.”
DA: No, no. Yeah, I get what you’re saying. I remember, though, around that time there was that thing going around where the kids liked to sit on the side of the stage and look at the crowd. It was nothing to do with that, it just made them feel good to sit on the side of the stage and look out.
KH: Oh, maybe I’m — Oh, okay.
DA: Yeah, and the other thing is, if you think about it, if they hated us, they wouldn’t have been at the gig. There was one gig — I don’t remember where — and it was packed. We sold that London gig out on a little tour. I looked out behind the curtain and it was packed. They were loving it.
KH: I got the wrong end of the stick.
DA: Wrong end of the stick? Just for a change! You’re usually pretty on on this stuff.
How were those early fans? Like, I remember hearing stories about the Joy Division crowds sometimes being pretty radical. Were there ever any major incidents in particular in the Bauhaus days?
DA: Yes. Yeah. With Bauhaus they was a lot of that. There was one time we got booked for, like, a skinhead nazi rally. They booked Bauhaus — I can’t believe it. So we had about two or three full-on nazi skinhead bands before us and then we came on with our fishnets and big hair.
KH: You’re getting a little confused by it.
DA: What’s new? You can tell the story, I’ve just set it up.
KH: What it was was we played at a university. This band supported us and a bunch of skinheads just happened to turn up to the show just to cause trouble.
DA: No, this was definitely a skinhead –
DA: All of the other bands were skinhead bands. We couldn’t understand why we had been. They were going off into the bathroom and pissing in these little things and then squirting them at us.
KH: That’s the gig I’m talking about! The skinheads showed up just to cause trouble. Yeah, they were pissing in water pistols and throwing glasses full of piss at us. They were sniffing glue. Security just left because we were scared, so we were left on our own.
DA: We had that hoo-ha in Amsterdam as well. Anyway, this is all getting a bit “Spinal Tap.” Actually, I haven’t seen Spinal Tap in about 35 years. I mean, I don’t know why people don’t ask us the same questions they ask Brian Eno — they ask us if there was a punch-up at the gig. It’s just not fair! I think I’m going to have a tantrum.