Bid was born in India of an
Indian father and an
American mother, but the family soon moved to New York, and later Toronto
before settling in England where Bid was schooled and grew up.
Make no mistake; his music is distinctly British,
effete, fey and terribly “English upper-crusty”, mocking everything
in sight, most of all himself. Monochrome Set were a true treasure, from their
late ‘70s beginnings till their late ‘90s retirement. Whimsical
and witty with basic rock-band instrumentation of guitar, bass and drums;
backing the vocals and (mostly) the songs of Bid. Often sexually ambiguous,
but easily as cool as they were camp. With a wonderful grasp of classic ‘60s
pop songcraft. When Monochrome Set stopped being an active ongoing concern
in the late ‘90s, Bid turned his considerable creative energy to the
studio recording entity of Scarlet’s Well, he writes and co-produces,
(with some assistance from latter day Monochrome Set member Orson Presence),
a group with three or four superb female vocalists. Bid doesn’t sing
as much, but the songs are probably the most sophisticated, ambitious and
enjoyable things he’s ever written.
Who is Scarlet’s Well?
Bid: Technically, neither appearing to be a band nor a solo
project, at least as I originally conceived it. The concept I have is difficult
to fully explain, perhaps even vague, but also paradoxically very strong-
it has been a real surprise to find that many non-English speaking listeners
seem to understand/enjoy the albums, especially as the songs are so lyric-driven.
What is/are Scarlet’s Well?
Bid: It is, as they probably suspect, set in a village (on
some undefined and little-visited coast) populated by a set of "characters",
some of them not human. It is, as you hint, an ongoing and open-ended musical,
but which will have a partly ever-changing cast. Seriously, it's very difficult
for me to talk about what Scarlet's Well is, as it's continually developing.
Scarlet’s Well feels very much like a musical stage production, is there
any plan to present it as such in the future?
Bid: It's very possible to do a concert (or film), but would
necessitate a shit load of planning and rehearsal, and probably involve a
lot of other people, so the idea is- we won't, unless there's the money to
do it and the prospect of having a good time.
I certainly hope some visionary patron appears to produce some kind of stage
or film adaptation of SW, it’s too grand an idea not to come into being.
I’m imagining a Disney budget and a feature length running time...
Bid: Well, it'd be nice to do a SWell show/ film/tv thing,
What’s the most recent Scarlet’s Well album The Isle of Blue Flowers
Bid: Well, the last song (The Captain's Song) saw our merry
band aboard a ship, so I thought we may as well sail somewhere. So, it's partly
set somewhere in/off the coast of South America, on land and aboard ship;
a couple of songs are set back in the village.
Are Monochrome Set still a band?
Bid: TMS haven't split up exactly, but we have no plans to
do anything for the foreseeable future. The last gigs we did were in Greece
a couple of years ago, and we then agreed to give it a rest. I guess if a
reasonable company offered us a deal, we may continue, but we're not looking
at the moment.
Early on you played with Adam Ant, can you tell me something about this time?
Bid: To cut a long story short: Andy and I were at school
together, and played in various school bands. He replied to an ad for a bass
player, it was with Adam and Lester in a band called the B-Sides- when I say
“band”, it never got to play live. A girl called Max (now Foz's
wife, they met much later) joined on drums, and I on third guitar. The thing
fell apart, Adam formed the Ants with Lester and Andy. Lester left after a
couple of weeks and formed TMS with myself. Much later, and after making the
first Ants' album, Andy joined TMS just before the recording of Strange Boutique.
I didn't get to know Adam/Stuart particularly well, seemed a nice chap, etc.
The songs he was writing early on were really very good, but I don't like
any of the Ants albums.
What’s your favorite TMS albums?
Bid: It's very difficult to say. The most stylistically complete
were maybe Strange Boutique and Dante's Casino. Eligible may well have had
some better songs, though. I can't begin to describe the difference in my
enjoyment of recording a SWell album and the uphill struggle which afflicts
most band recordings (I've done some producing as well).
Who are some of the artists you’ve produced?
Bid: Well, I suppose I can recommend Divorce At High Noon
by The Karelia (Roadrunner), Mondo by The Would-Be-Goods (Polystar, also licensed
by Cherry Red), Songs For The Jet Set Vol. 1 by various artists (Polystar,
also licensed by Siesta). The others are ok, but standard fare.
Is it possible the Scarlet’s Well recording experience is more enjoyable
due to the lack of “band democracy”?
Bid: Absolutely. I discuss, as I have always done, styles
of recording and production when in the studio, but now do not have to use
methods or instruments which I think are inappropriate to the songs. I also
no longer have to write/craft songs for a certain, fixed, group of instruments.
The SWell albums have less practical constraints in that way, but I'm a great
deal more disciplined in the way I write the material.
I must say, I think this stuff is probably your best work ever.
Bid: I agree in that I also think it's my best work- not
that any one of the songs is better than, say, “Jet Set”, but
I think these albums are of a higher standard throughout, in the writing,
presentation, recording, etc. I'm sure, however, that some people will be
disappointed with the direction I'm taking.
Can you tell me something about your background and where you were brought
Bid: I was born in Calcutta. My father is a Brahmin from
Madras, my mother American from Washington. Spent the first 7 years in India,
went to a French school (don't speak any of the Indian languages), then moved
to New York, Toronto, Bournemouth (England), and finally London. Etc.
Who is the mysterious Barry Gemso?
Bid: Gemso was the name I gave to the orchestra on The Would-Be-Goods'
Mondo album, which I produced in 1993 for Polystar Records (Japan). It stands
for Geordie Electric Magic Shite Orchestra. The same name was then used on
other productions and one or two MSet albums. It somehow transmuted into an
individual called Barry Gemso on the recording of Strange Letters- I envisaged
a balding, seedy, rather overweight gentleman with an ill-fitting and stained
white suit, driving a battered Trabant. I had absolutely no connection whatsoever
with the "Barry Gemso Orchestra" album- you can't copyright a joke,
but I have quietly dropped it from any future albums I make. I'll be more
careful in future.
How’s your relationship with Siesta?
Bid: Perfect, really. As a record company, they leave me
alone to pursue what I want, give me enough money to do it, like expensive
artwork/ packages, get the record into a very wide range of stores (at least
in Europe and Japan, I don't know about the US), and don't seem to be bothered
if I play live or not. Personally, very charming people who are very laid
back about the whole thing.
G.P.: Do you believe in ghosts?
Bid: I'm open-minded- I don't really think about it. I knew
someone, who, when young, lived in Alnwick (a small town in Northumberland,
England), in a house which had a pet cemetery at the foot of the garden. One
bedroom was haunted, by the back end of a dog. They had a dog (a live one)
which refused to go into the room.
G.P.: How important are dreams, dreaming
or daydreaming to your work or your life?
Bid: I daydream all the time, I guess everything that thinks
G.P.: Would you tell me a baker’s
dozen of your favorite recordings?
Bid: i. The Threepenny Opera (the original, with Lotte Lenya).
ii. Any one of the Sir Malcolm Sargent recordings of Gilbert & Sullivan.
iii. Any Hot Club of France record.
iv. Any Brel album or compilation.
v. Live At Carnegie Hall, Judy Garland.
vi. The first Velvets' album.
vii. Foxtrot, Genesis.
viii. Billion Dollar Babies, Alice Cooper.
ix. Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, Lou Reed.
x. The first Yes live album, can't remember the name.
xi. The first Country Joe & the Fish album.
xii. A whole host of late sixties & early seventies recordings.
xiii. Special mention to Façade (Sitwell/ Walton), Metal Machine Music
(Lou Reed), and Sir Henry..) (Viv Stanshall) for being particularly mad.
G.P.: What were some of your early
Bid: The list of recordings/artists (above) were somewhat
influential, and also mainstream sixties artists like the Beatles, Monkees,
etc. I'm also influenced by a wide range of poetry.
you name some of your favorite poets and poems?
Bid: A whole bunch really, for different reasons. I don't
know if I have a favourite.
Dryden, Byron, Swift, Coleridge, Lear, Betjeman, Sitwell, Lewis Carroll, Cowper,
Poe, Donne. Anyone who can turn a rhyme and who has a rhythmic quality. No
G.P.: How important is the element
of humor to your work?
Bid: Well, I just don't (particularly now that I no longer
have the constraints of a band) think about what or how I'm going to write
when I put pen to paper. Many of the lyrics are obviously humorous, but I
don't... it's difficult to explain- exactly have any control over what I write,
most of the time it just comes out.
G.P.: When you say your work “just
comes out”, is it always the same process?
Bid: I suppose so. It's easier now in the sense that I know
what the general feel of the album should be, but more difficult in that I
set a high lyrical standard, and also have to do all the musical arrangements
myself. As to the writing, I just get myself in the right frame of mind and
let it happen, but I can't analyze it.
G.P.: Would you tell me a short story
from your childhood, profound or mundane but for whatever reason, memorable
Bid: I can't remember much, as we travelled a lot. I recall
losing my sandal once, on the back of an elephant. It was crossing a deep
and fast-flowing river in North India somewhere, and the water was up to my
ankles (and the elephant's eyes). I was made an honorary member of The Himalayan
Mountaineering Institute by Sherpa Tenzing, I remember sitting on his shoulders
and seeing Everest in the distance. Er., Having the shit pecked out of me
by a peacock.
G.P.: Where do you live? Would you
give a verbal description of where you live?
Bid: A spacious whale just off Cornwall.
G.P.: You seem to have a bit of an
obsession for nautical themes, do you have any idea where this comes from?
Bid: I don't! I'm sure that, prior to now, I'd never written
about the sea. Midas Touch was a bit shanty-ish, but John wrote the lyrics
anyway. You'll have to remind me, then.
G.P.: “Nautical themes”
It’s often in song structures and your guitar sounding so “wet”
and songs like Midas Touch, Great Barrier Riff, and Yo Ho Ho (Which I note
is a Foster composition).
Bid: It's true that both SWell albums
have sea-themes, and I rather like being called “nautically obsessed”.
G.P.: There seem to be quite a few
“spirits” floating around Scarlet’s Well, it’s a rather
enchanted place as well isn’t it?
Bid: I think so, maybe because it's meant to be a smallish
village, not so modern, less "man-made", closer to nature, etc.
Perhaps that's what the sea signifies, being a port certainly adds to the
slightly wilder feel. Was Arkham a port?
G.P.: Certainly a port of sorts, even
if not of this world, though a real habitation by the sea usually involved
some sort of port access. Are you fond of H.P. Lovecraft?
Bid: One of my favourites, shame he didn't (like Poe) write
more long stories. The Dream Quest is a bit loony, though, even for me. Clark
Ashton Smith is also a tremendous writer, but I've only seen one collection
of short stories.
G.P.: What did your parents think of
you pursuing a career as a pop musician?
G.P.: If you could have lived in a
time other than now, when would it be and why?
Bid: I definitely don't think the grass is greener on the
other side. I think it's probably mud. A couple of hundred years ago, I would
have been a king, but I might have had bad teeth. It's a gilded lily, is time
travel, mark my words.
G.P.: What is your favorite thing about
Bid: That they don't live forever. At the moment.
G.P.: What’s the best kind of
Bid: Cripp Magic, practiced by chipmunks, which is mainly
concerned with the supernatural lifting of biscuits by methods unknown.
G.P.: Who are some of your guitar heroes?
Bid: Not heroes, but: Santana (as you guessed), Steve Howe,
Ry Cooder, the blokes who played on the early Alice Cooper, Mick Box, Leadbelly,
Lou Reed, Rory Gallagher, that bloke who used to play with Muddy Waters when
G.P.: Will there be a US release of
the SWell material?
Bid: Well, yes & no- Siesta export but don't license,
meaning that it won't be picked up and promoted by a US record company, but
may be bought in by distributors. In Japan and Europe, this often amounts
to the same thing, but I don't know about the US, and how available it will
be. Of course, the first album was on US indie sites to buy.
G.P.: Can you tell me some of your
favorite films and why?
Bid: I like all of the Orson Welles films, Cocteau, Kurosawa
(also the domestic Japanese dramas made in the 60s), anything stylish and
a bit odd, really. My favourite comic film is Buffet Froid with Depardieu,
but I don't know who directed it.
G.P.: Which do you prefer; the studio
or the live experience?
Bid: Now, definitely studio, but I preferred live work when
in the MSet. It just comes down to what's more fun/satisfying, and studio
work wasn't really when making those MSet albums, but touring was always a
laugh. I have a great time making the SWell albums, but would imagine touring
this ensemble would be a bleeding nightmare.
G.P.: Your solo career under your own
name was rather short lived, what’s the reason?
Bid: Purely 'cos I had little or no support, either from
Cherry Red or other companies. It wasn't the right thing to do at that time.
I've also never had a great deal of personal ambition with regard to my music
"career", and I think you need that drive to overcome/ignore the
plethora of idiots that populate the industry.
A selective partial discography:
The Monochrome Set
Strange Boutique (1980, Dindisc)
Love Zombies (1980, Dindisc)
Eligible Bachelors (1982, Cherry Records)
The Lost Weekend (1985, WEA)
Dante's Casino (1990, Vinyl Japan)
Jack (1991, Honeymoon)
Charade (1993, Cherry Red)
Misere (1994, Cherry Red)
Trinity Road (1995, Cherry Red)
Chaps (1997, Snapper)
Strange Letters (1999, Siesta)
The Isle of the Blue Flowers (2000, Siesta)
A couple websites: