Fresh from releasing their new album The Phantom Head, recorded with legendary producer Steve Albini, The Scaramanga Six are in a buoyant mood. So when we are forced to conduct the interview in the Harley Hotel stairwell they take it in their stride. Bass player Steven jovially greats hotel guests, serenading them as they arrive for a party, earning some bemused glances.
Twin brothers Steven and Paul Morrricone formed The Scaramanga Six eighteen years ago in 1995 and since then have been through a mind-boggling number of line-up changes. The current line-up consists of Paul on vocals and guitar, Steven on vocals and bass guitar, Julia Arnez on keys and backing vocals, Gareth Champion and Stephen ‘Stuffy’ Gilchrist both on drums. Attempting to explain their constant need for change, Paul laughs,“We’ve been augmenting our line up every now and then with some friends of ours. With this latest album, we’d always wanted to have two drummers. For no reason other than it looks and sounds cool!”
“If you consider success as being able to do exactly what you want, how you want to do it, then we’re the most successful band in the entire world”
Gareth adds, nodding in agreement, “Stuffy played with us in 2003 on our Cabin Fever album and we stayed in touch with him. He kind of snuck back into the band, we turned around and suddenly there’s two drummers! For such a conspicuous man that was quite a feat (Stuffy is massively tall with a shock of curly hair), I’m not sure how he managed it!”
Large amounts of banter hold The Scaramanga Six together as they constantly break off into anecdotes and puns that would baffle the casual observer. Discussing the bands long history Paul deadpans, “It’s a fine balance of hatred that keeps this band together! It’s like when you see your parents and they’ve been together 40 years, they just go through the motions for the sake of the children really. We’re like that”
Steven grins, “Our songs are our children, they are like a litter of piglets forced to fight for the teat. Every so often there’s a runt that gets left to the side, that’s how we decide which songs survive”.
Choosing not to sign to a label, they have instead, self-released all of their eight albums, giving them more flexibility to create the kind of record they want, with no room for compromise. Steven explains, “We are our own management, label, our own accountants even. There’s none of that pressure on us, so we can pretty much go whichever way the wind blows. Success is all relative and we are very successful, in our own minds!”
Paul adds, “If you consider success as being able to do exactly what you want, how you want to do it, then we’re the most successful band in the entire world”
Since releasing their flamboyantly titled debut album ‘The Liar The Bitch And Her Wardrobe’ in 1999 the band have moved on, literally. They used to rent a large house together, ‘like The Monkees’, but now spread out across opposite ends of the country. Finding time to record often proves a challenge. Paul shrugs, resigned, “These days because its very difficult for all of us to get together we treat it like doing homework. We set goals, then we get together and put things together in no time”. Steven nods, “ And our practices are like exams”. “Parent’s evenings are a bit weird though, mine don’t really like pop music”, smirks Stuffy.
Touring has never really been an option for The Scaramanga Six, but their razor sharp live shows have built them a loyal legion of fans. Dramatic performances like the sharp-edged punk song, ‘You Should’ve Killed Me When You Had The Chance’ owe as much to the bombastic stylings of Queen as the crashing drums of the Buzzcocks. At once tightly structured and haphazardly chaotic, they are instantly endearing and subtly joking. Stuffy explains, “Because we don’t tour excessively when we do play we’re so fired up that it spills out onto the stage, we end up mauling ourselves as well as the audience”.
Having recently worked with Steve Albini in Chicago on their new album, they worked with the equally legendary Tim Smith (Cardiacs) on ‘Cabin Fever’ and the album ‘A Pound Of Flesh’ that was sadly never completed. Tim was taken ill in 2008 with a combined heart attack and stroke during a My Bloody Valentines show and is currently still on the long road to recovery. The band describe how they first came to meet him. Paul recalls, “The connection was though Stuffy here. He introduced us in a round about fashion”.
Stuffy nods, “I said just turn up with a tape and a bottle of brandy and he’ll record you. We’re all avid Cardiacs fans. in fact the fist time Paul and I met was a random meeting outside a Cardiacs gig in London. Us being fan boys and Cardiacs being affable friendly types we eventually got to know various members. I was in another band called Quinn that Tim was going to produce and it didn’t happen”.
Paul continues, “So when Stuffy suggested we record with Tim, we were like ‘No way’, because if you’d seen that guy on stage, in his prime, the whole act is intimidating, terrifying”.
Julia, chimes in gently, “Also it really mattered that he liked us”.
Paul nods, his expression suddenly serious, “It mattered terribly, so we sent him a copy of our album ‘Strike Up The Band’ and few days later I got a phone call from him. I was running round the house like this (he mimes a crazy ‘Home Alone’ style expression), but I managed to keep my cool enough to get that he really dug what we were doing and he invited us over to record”.
Steven smiles, “So we turned up in the middle of the night and all our fan boy dreams came true”.
The Scaramanga Six describe working with Tim as ‘an amazing and humbling experience’, the resulting album 2004’s ‘Cabin Fever’ featuring now classic tracks and the psychadelia tinged meltdown ‘The Poison Pen’ is a seething mass of energy that still sounds distinctive ten years on. They chose not to continue work on 2008 recording ‘A Pound of Flesh’ out of respect for Tim. Its a memory that is still tinged with sadness, Steven describes:”We were in a bit of disarray of course and it was an utterly tragic situation. This guy had become basically like a brother, a genius falling ill so spectacularly and us not being able to do anything to help. We felt that it would have been very insensitive to try and push to do anything with that album.”
Paul adds, “Our reaction was that we very quickly wrote, recorded and released another album, ‘Songs of Prey’, literally in about 6 months. We got that out very quickly almost because we were denying what had gone on. I couldn’t listen to it for ages, but now I listen back and think ‘Wow, that’s really strong stuff’. Then we purposefully re-recorded the third album (that we did with Tim) in it entirety again, with one song that remained from the old recordings, (Walking Through Houses). It was very strange, but we though we couldn’t let these songs go, so we did it for him in a way. We had to clear them out of the way before we could do anything else”.
Aside from their prolific recordings as The Scaramanga Six the band also find and outlet in other projects. Steven plays Saxaphone in psychadelic dance-rock band Kava Kava and both Morricone brothers join song-writer Dave Cooke in unique educational project, Being 747. They recently performed part of their Natural History series, ‘Amoeba to Zebra’ at the Young British Scientist of the Year Show, with Paul switching onto drums and Steven manning the keyboards with a Bill Bailey-esque flair. He add, “The successes of that (Being 747) over the years have given us with the enthusiasm to continue doing this. If we hadn’t had the interesting opportunities the A-Z show has given me I might have given up a long time ago, jacked in the label and stopped. They’re my niece and nephews favourite band”.
They also rang in the New Year as B52s tribute band Mock Lobster at this years Brudenell party, whipping the crowd into jiving frenzy, they plan to resurrect the band at the Roscoe on 19th May. Steve grins, “We thought we’d try it again, it was so much fun!”
Laughing they bandy about their favourite tribute names, ‘The Shitty Beatles, By Jovi, The Disappointing Doors, an all midget version of Kiss, ‘Little Kiss’. Stuffy’s favourites are “’Shevo’, an all female Devo covers band and all female Duran Duran covers band called ‘Joanne Joanne’. They’re brilliant!”