Music interview: The Psychedelic Furs ‘reintroduce’ themselves

The Psychedelic Furs. Picture: Maggie Butler
The Psychedelic Furs. Picture: Maggie Butler
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It’s been five years since the Psychedelic Furs last performed in Yorkshire, and a full two and a half decades since they last released a new record.

Now, at last, one of the most durable groups to emerge from British post-punk are back on these shores, with the promise of their first studio album since 1991’s World Outside.

For bass player Tim Butler, who like his elder brother Richard has long been based in the US, the band’s forthcoming UK tour, which includes a show at Leeds Academy, is an opportunity to “reintroduce” themselves to a British audience.

“We’re actually working on a new album which hopefully will be out next year so it’s nice to re-ingratiate ourselves to an English audience,” he says.

The forthcoming new material is likely to be a progression from their first seven albums. “Obviously it’s going to sound like the Furs,” Butler says. “You can’t not with Richard singing, but as you go through the years you listen to things that are around and you change and get better at writing. I think we’ll be influenced by what is out there, new bands, but we’ll still be the Psychedelic Furs, not too far from the Talk Talk Talk/Forever Now sound.”

The focus, however, on this tour will be on their rich catalogue of singles which include Pretty in Pink, Love My Way, Sister Europe and Heaven. “Our manager was saying we’ve had 18 singles or something, some of them sort of hits, others misses but there’s a lot to get into the shows. I think what we’ll probably do is the singles and a few other popular tracks like President Gas and maybe a couple of new ones, we’ll have to wait and see.”

The Psychedelic Furs’ roots go all the way back to punk’s glory years, 1977. “I had just left school, I was 17 almost 18,” Butler recalls. “Richard was at art school. At that time punk was in its heyday, unemployment for teenagers and just young in general was amazingly bad. I think that’s what fulled into the whole punk thing – the feeling that you leave school and you’ve got no future because there were no jobs. The Pistols put it so well.

“I can remember Richard and I seeing the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club and him saying, ‘This is great, let’s form a band’. I said, ‘I can’t play anything’ and Richard said, ‘Well, what do you want to play?’

“I’d originally wanted to be a drummer, something at the bottom end that keeps the beat, but I couldn’t afford a drum kit so I decided ‘I’ll do the bass then’. He said, ‘Well, buy yourself a bass and we’ll form a band’ – and here we are all those years later.”

Butler’s early inspiration was Jean-Jacques Burnel of The Stranglers. “The first two Stranglers’ albums had great precision sound,” he says. “They had a residency at the Nashville and Richard and I and his girlfriend would go and see them every Wednesday for a month and he was the first bass player that I’d seen who was the main attraction of the band. Hugh Cornwell would just stand there but Jean Burnel would do his slinky moves around the stage, he was a real showman. I’d always thought a bass player had to be like Bill Wyman or John Entwistle standing there looking bored; that’s what drew me to Jean Burnel.”

The Psychedelic Furs’ early albums may now be regarded as post-punk classics but the recording process involved copious self-criticism. “Someone would come up with a riff and someone else might say ‘That sounds a bit like so and so’. OK, that’s in the dumper,” Butler remembers. “A lot of bands nowadays come out with these reissues and they have loads and loads of unreleased tracks, we’d never have unreleased tracks because if they weren’t good enough to record and be on the album then we didn’t bother to record them.”

The Psychedelic Furs’ song Pretty in Pink famously inspired the American director John Hughes to make a film based on it, starring Molly Ringwald.

Butler admits the band were initially flattered. “But when we got to see the movie we were like ‘This has got nothing at all to do with the lyrics of the song Pretty in Pink,” he says. “It got us through to a larger market, whether that was a good thing I don’t know. It got us a lot more teen girl fans who’d wear pink sweaters but it lost us a lot of our hardcore fans who’d been with us up to that point and had heard the original which is far superior to the re-record.”

The band’s commercial peak, with the 1987 album Midnight To Midnight, brought problems of its own. Tim Butler recalls his brother suffering chest pains – “I guess it was anxiety, we’d really gone off the rails...trying to ingratiate ourselves into a bigger market. After that tour we seriously thought of jacking it in.”

They managed to right the ship enough to make two more albums, but tired of record companies asking “Can you write another Pretty in Pink?” and called it a day in the early 1990s. The Butlers went on to form Love Spit Love before regrouping as the Psychedelic Furs around the turn of the Millennium. They’ve toured intermittently ever since.

The Psychedelic Furs play at the O2 Academy Leeds on September 2. thepsychedelicfurs.com

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