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It Bites

It Bites do you know; great big bleeding chunks out of other musicians, the singles market, the music press... Paul Henderson chances his arm

Has being a musicians' band cost It Bites the acclaim of an overly-trendy music press? They seem to think so.

"We're not trendy, and we can play. Anybody who isn't trendy and who can play just doesn't fit in with the London scene and with the music papers like Sounds, NME and all that lot."

That's It Bites drummer Bob Dalton's condensed thoughts on why this new band have had more than their fair share of bad reviews and generally negative reactions from the majority of Britain's Rock press.

"Look at who those papers are saying are great," he continues. "I'm not slagging those bands, but..."

"You may as well, 'cause they're fuckin' crap," says John Beck, with a wry smile, coming back into the room after making the umpteenth 'phone call to try and get hold of some keyboards which actually work, and obviously delighted with the timing of that last comment.

Bob: "Those papers send people who are into bands like the Jesus And Mary Chain and the Pogues to see us, and comment on one of our gigs. I mean, what are they gonna say?"

John looks up from his sprawled position on the carpet; a now vaguely malevolent grin coming onto his face: "They probably listen to us on the quiet, when they're at home, and without telling anybody."

"They don't go for it because it's musicianship," says guitarist Frank Dunnary. "They're not giving it a chance. In fact, they're doing exactly what I used to do with some bands who I can now listen to because I'm not so ignorant. But at one point I wouldn't listen to anybody who couldn't play. And that was just as stupid on my part."

"It's in-built in most people that if you don't understand it... slag it," concludes Bob. "Now who wants another cup o'tea?"

I sympathise entirely. Their debut album, The Big Lad In The Windmill, shows a band of very capable musicians with a lot more to them than you might expect if you've only heard the singles: Extremely melodic, with adventurous, powerfully emotive arrangements, all sewn together with often exemplary musicianship.

They are a Rock band, but the rock press churns out things like, 'It Bites are very classy... I hate them.' But they've had a top 10 single and so find themselves courted by the 'pop' magazines, taking them to the end of their tether with questions about their favourite ice cream and soap.

It Bites come from Cumbria, and like many a Northern band gained valuable experience from playing the working men's clubs, where if you didn't sound good you didn't get a gig. It was cover versions, "six or seven nights a week, playing the same set for two years," getting a skinful and having a lot of fun. But, more importantly, it also gave them the opportunity to develop and mature as musicians, to learn how to play as a band, and gained them a valuable appreciation of what sort of things work when playing live.

Unlike many of the recent crop of new bands who found themselves with a hit single so early in their career, It Bites are primarily a live band, able to reproduce even their more complex songs with a level of technical skill and dexterity ("and with more 'bollocks' than the album" — bassist Richard Nolan) which has drawn the accusation of 'musos' from several quarters.

"I hate that term," says Frank, with a look that actually means that his cup of tea has gone cold while he's been taking. And I must admit that it does usually give me the idea of people more interested in the gauge of their strings than in the quality of their songs. And that certainly isn't the case with this bunch.

"I don't think we're musos, says Richard. "Maybe it's because there haven't been many young people around for a bit who can play."

"I don't think we're that good musicians anyway," adds John Beck, taking care that they don't end up portraying themselves as instrumental 'whizz kids'.

Frank nods in agreement: "I know: We're not. If that kind of thing gets about we'll show ourselves up! Somebody good will come to see us and they'll laugh at us," he jokes.

They are, nevertheless, fine musicians. And each of them being able to play each other's instruments to some degree gives a high level of input when it comes to writing songs.

"It means that each person's part is sort of done four ways — it goes through like a 'Crown Court' kind of thing," explains Richard.

"Aye, it does doesn't it," agrees John, still grinning. "You shit yourself coming up with something 'cause it's got to be sort of 'approved' by the rest of the band. Everybody gets their tuppence ha'penny's worth in."

"And I'm on a hidin' to nothin' with this lot," says Bob, "cause each one of them can play drums. So the drum parts especially are written between the four of us. I've ended up with, like, four different styles within my own style."

John: "It's the same with everything, though. Frank will get on the keys and do something, and if it's good I'm not gonna say 'nah, I'm not using that because I didn't make it up.' Same with Richard — If I come up with a bass line on the synth and he likes it, then he'll use it. Or he might write some guitar chords for Frank, or summat."

This, as they say, just happened to bring the conversation around to the subject of the album.

Frank: "You see... as musicians (and as people) we know what we want. When it came to doing the album it must have been hard for the producer, Alan Shacklock, with all his experience, having some young upstarts coming to him and saying, 'nah, I don't want it like that, I want it like this.' We did that a lot, and I really respect the fact that he left us a lot of room.

"The album came out well," he continues, with a tone of reservation, "but our emphasis is so much on playing live — we don't think of ourselves as a studio band — and we found we were putting one or two things down which we couldn't reproduce live."

"We'd let Alan fire away with some keyboard sounds and things," remembers John, casting a concerned glance at his currently depleted keyboard rack. "They sounded good. Nothing wrong with them, but we're now finding that with, say, You'll Never Go To Heaven, one of our most popular numbers, we have a problem reproducing that live without using a sequencer. We haven't used one at all up to now, and that's the only song we're gonna use it on. It's a QX21, but we'll never ever use any sequencer again. I don't want people coming to the show and saying 'Ah, but he's not playing half those things that he's doing."

"Yeah. We're not into machines at all," adds Richard.

Frank: "But Alan's got a head for chord structures and stuff, and he's a musician. Those are a couple of reasons we worked with him. See, he's a dead good producer. The album's well produced, but it didn't come out how I think we wanted to hear it — mainly because of the mix.

"Let me put it this way: the album Alan's way sounds much more impressive than what it would have been our way. But our way you would have been able to hear much more stuff and it would have been more us."

They are into songs, strong melodies and, most of all, getting out there and doing what they do well and do best — playing live. They aren't too bothered about the tools of their trade as long as they do the job.

"We just aren't technically minded," confesses Bob. "I mean, I got these drums (Yamaha 9000 Series) just because the sound appealed to me. I know nothing about shells or anything like that."

Richard: "I use Trace Elliot because bass players that I liked use them, and at that time I didn't really know much about gear. The amps are good but the speakers aren't too hot. I use a Status bass now. I used to have a Pangbourn, but every time I opened the case the neck was different — frets buzzing and all that. And at the moment I'm trying Zons — they've got more guts and they're more raunchy."

Getting It Bites to talk with any real enthusiasm about the equipment they use is a bit like walking into a very strong wind. You can eventually make some headway but you're better off going in another direction.

Frank used to use Marshalls, "but I couldn't get enough sustain out of them. I don't know if I was using them wrong or what. Now I've got a couple of Seymour Duncan Convertibles, and I can get any sound I want out of them. I got the first one because the producer said that Jeff Beck used one! That was when we were doing the album. The first three tracks we did — Turn Me Loose, Calling All The Heroes and I Wanna Shout — were with the Marshall, and the guitar sounds on there are really shit. I use a Squier, which has been absolutely brilliant. But I've got another pickup fitted in my Vintage Strat, and I'll probably use that now."

John: "Well... the basic keyboard is the DX7, which I've had since they first came out. Everybody seems to slag them off, but I think they're brilliant. When I buy synths I just get one that I've seen good players using. I just think that if they use them then they must be good! I don't know about frequencies and oscillators and stuff. Because I'm not very good at programming I just tend to nick sounds and edit sounds that I've already got, you know?"

Any sampling?

"Er... Oh, yes! We used an E-mu and a Fairlight on the album — just a few string sounds — but I won't be using them again. I mean, if someone gave me one tomorrow it'd be no good to me 'cause I can't be bothered to learn how to use one. I just go for sounds that are quick to get and that sound good."

It Bites: Musicians rather than 'musos'; 'getting off' live rather than being studio 'technicians'; lovers of emotive chord sequences and soaring melodies rather than instrumental 'flash'; doubtless more hit singles to come, although you'd get a much more in-focus picture of what they are about from listening to the album. Am I close?

Richard: "We're just into music, not hit singles or the way we look and all that. We like what we like, we do what we do, and we think we're improving all the time. If we didn't try to extend our musical creative ability we'd just get pissed off."

"I think singles are a load of bollocks anyway," says John, on his way out of the room to make yet another call to get some working keyboards.

"Who wants another cup o'tea then?"

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International Musician & Recording World - Copyright: Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.


International Musician - Dec 1986


It Bites



Interview by Paul Henderson

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> Workbench

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