The Beat Poets
Francis Jones finds out how the Belfast band offended Scotland's 'surf-funk community'
Not ones for taking the scenic route, the past year has seen The Beat Poets embark on music’s tortuous Grand Tour. Along the way they’ve been beset by misfortune and come uncomfortably close to disillusion.
But, rallying behind a superb new single, they’ve mustered momentum, wielding axes yet again as they continue their assault on rock’s high tower and anticipate a breakthrough 2007.
Just returned from a short tour of England and embroiled in the mundane business minutiae that is the burden of any aspiring band, The Beat Poets' frontman, John Dinsmore, seems somewhat fatigued, certainly not the stage-storming fiend of live performance.
However, mere mention of The Beat Poet’s double A-side, ‘Turn It On’/‘Shadowlands’ and the tiredness soon dissipates, replaced with sheer, unfettered enthusiasm.
The two tracks provide a pithy précis of what The Beat Poets are about; ‘Turn It On’ is a short, sharp, pop-rock shock of a song, not the most complex work the band has ever put together. As Dinsmore suggests, its simplicity is its success.
‘You know what, it’s just a catchy song. Magazine people, label people they kept telling us you’ve got to be quirky, that’s how you’re gonna get into the NME, but we just thought this is a catchy song, that’s enough.
'It sounds like a real cock-rock type of song, but, in fact, it’s the complete opposite. It’s about not having the courage to say to a girl what you really think, to tell them that you like them.’
By comparison, ‘Shadowlands’ is a more precisely engineered creation, the flaying sharpness of ‘Turn It On’ giving way to vertiginous depths.
‘What’s it about? Well we could be here a while. To a certain extent it’s about a political writer called John Pilger and a book he wrote concerned with why people around the world hate America. We went in to record about the same time that Israel launched its attacks on Palestine. That whole war was a farce in my opinion.
'The song is about the fact that people don’t really know what’s going on, when they’re being lied to, what’s the truth. Effectively they're living in the shadowlands.’
Quirky or not, The Beat Poets certainly piqued the interest of the music press, not least the NME, who gave the single a glowing review.
‘I just wanted people to acknowledge that there was a bit of promise, I didn’t expect people to be going hysterical’ comments Dinsmore. ‘But, then when we got back the reviews they were fantastic. 4/5 or 9/10 and then we got playlisted by XFM, BBC and Virgin Radio Extreme.'
Add to this the fact that the entire first run of the single was shifted in double quick time and continues to enjoy brisk download trade and it is clear to see why the band has been courted by some major players.
‘Greg Haver, producer for the Manic Street Preachers and Lostprophets, is really keen to get behind us. Because this single has gone well we really want to push on and do something quickly, whether it be going to a major or putting out another single we’ve got to be building on the foundations we’ve already laid down.’
However, the band’s burgeoning profile has brought them as much controversy as clamouring attention. Eventually their reputation would reach Scotland’s surf-funk community. Aforementioned surf-funk community was not best pleased. Dinsmore gives a rueful, disbelieving shrug as he recalls the sorry debacle.
‘People may have read stuff in the Belfast Telegraph, ‘Beat Poets versus Beat Poets’. These nice Scottish men who want to sue the pants clean off us.
'We landed in Scotland to play a gig in Glasgow and found that there was a shower of lunatics outside the venue telling people to boycott the show, handing out flyers and protesting about us playing because there was an instrumental Scottish surf-funk band of the same name.
'Obviously before we took our name we’d checked to see was there a band of the name ‘Beat Poets’ and couldn’t find anything. Well they’ve put a writ to us, saying that if we released anything they’d sue us, well we’ve released the single so let’s see.’
Incidents with Scottish surf-funk bands aside, it is clear from conversation that Dinsmore is as savvy about the business end of things as he is the music.
He talks of PR, market research, audience response and statistical breakdown. Not the most romantic aspect of the music world, it does, however, reveal an astuteness and hard-nosed determination that will hold him and his band in good stead.
‘You have to know these things, otherwise you’ll be absolutely conned. But, you see, we’ve been conned in the past, totally ripped off.
'That happened to us in the Elation years and even in the early days of this band, we’ve had plenty of problems with management. And when you go to London you just have to know what you’re about, ‘cause everyone is a manager in London, they all talk and talk, talking in riddles.
'But once you know the game you can cut through all that. I’ve had people coming up to me saying, ‘I’ll get you this, I’ll get you that’, and then you ask them a few detailed questions and they haven’t got a clue.’
There is no such ambiguity or lack of focus as Dinsmore unfurls The Beat Poets' plans for the forthcoming year.
‘We’re talking to a lot of people at the moment, just trying to get a grip on the whole picture and decide what the best plan of attack is for us. We probably won’t know that until at least mid-January. Until then we’ve just gotta keep gigging and keep writing.
'To get a deal next year would be immense, to get onto the festival circuit would be great, but until we know what’s happening we’ll just keep digging away.’
I suspect that if they keep digging the way they have been, it will surely only be a matter of time before The Beat Poets hit musical pay dirt.
Tom Rafferty of The Beat Poets (Scotland) responds: Keith Bruce & I formed The Beat Poets in Glasgow in 1986.
We released our first 2 records on 53rd & 3rd, the seminal Edinburgh independent label, and an album on Manchester' s Imaginary Records.
We have also released singles on Boa Records, and a Christmas Single, Silent Night. Our career has included many appearances on national radio and appearances on STV and national television.
We have a small website at http://hometown.aol.com/twrsurf/ and you can find some reviews of our records at:
We are still operating, and have continued to do so since 1986, so we are not happy at this other band using our name.
We contacted them as soon as we heard of them and several times since then. We only got our lawyers involved because of their lack of response.
The Beat Poets