Europeans & How We Live

Interview with Fergus Harper

Part Two



Part Two of this exclusive interview covers the 'Recurring Dreams' album, the Europeans split and what Ferg has been up to since. Also his thoughts on CD re-issues and a reunion.




Recurring Dreams era Ferg


The 'Recurring Dreams' album was more satisfying ?

Yeah, at Rockfield Studios in Wales in the summer time. It was really beautiful down there. Recording 'Vocabulary' had been a terribly forced thing. 'Recurring Dreams' wasn't so ridiculously, over-the-top-ly produced. David Lord's interference actually embellished the songs rather than totally ruining them. He did some really interesting things, and had a much better vibe all together. We really trusted him. We all got really excited, and thought "This is beginning to sound more like it. This sounds like how we dreamt our music would be taken and turned into."




Any favourite tracks from 'Recurring Dreams' ?

I liked a lot of them. '1001 Arguments' was probably one of my favourite ones. I liked 'Hometown.' 'Love Has Let Me Down' was alright, a good live track. I think if I listened to some of the more epic tracks on 'Recurring Dreams' now, I would probably still quite like them. 'Burning Inside You' and things like that, really built, and had quite a good tension. 'Acid Rain' was great. It was unfortunate that it was our last album, because I think had we gone on from there, had the other two not been so vehemently decided upon their duopoly, the next album would certainly have been a cracker. At that point we really saw where we were going. We established our style. We weren't doing so much of the quirky, off the wall stuff anymore, and had gone in to this more full production progressive rock kind of thing. I don't understand how that album didn't get more promotion than it did.




What happened about the 'Recurring Dreams' LP cover ?

Nick Knight, who is a very famous photographer now, had done a whole load of very imaginative shots. We had seen a lot of his work, and wanted to use him for the cover. We had taken some late night shots by the Thames, in someone's house down in Kingston. It was a surreal 'dream sequence' type photograph of us all in amongst the ivy. However, while we were away on tour in Holland, A&M in their infinite wisdom had a meeting in our absence because they didn't like the cover that we had chosen. They claimed that they were reaching a deadline, and because the band weren't around, Mike Ross, the head of the Art Department had gone out and taken a picture of some gravestone somewhere, and rushed a new cover together. So it was like "Hey boys, here's your new cover." And we were like 'What?' But it was too late, and had gone to the printers! It was a fait accompli ! I think the record deserved a better cover than it got. It looked like it had been chucked together in a day !




What was your songwriting role in the Europeans ?

Something like 'Hometown' I probably wrote all on my own. That was written around a bass riff and the tune was all in my head. The earlier stuff I had written more wholeheartedly with Geoff. Things like 'American People', were probably me and him working together fifty fifty. Inevitably, Steve and Colin collaborated on a lot of theirs, because Steve sang more. Although having said that, a lot of stuff was put together in the rehearsal room. Many of the backing tracks came from jams. We would find a good jam, stick it down on tape and then elaborate, by putting in a middle eight and twisting it around a bit.


Ferg Harper




As Steve began to write and sing more, did you feel that your role as 'lead' vocalist was in doubt ?

By the 'Recurring Dreams' album, Steve sang by far the majority of the songs. I think by that point we were probably wondering if having two vocalists was a really good idea. Maybe it was convoluting everything? Maybe from the public point of view we should have kept it as simple as possible? I think Steve probably wanted to sing everything. Although, when he joined it, it was a bit difficult for him to say "Y'know what, I think I should sing and write everything." I don't know. At the time, our manager certainly didn't see it as a problem. He seemed to think that it was a plus, the fact that there was a bit of diversity within the band, so I think we went for that.




Europeans had just recorded 'Recurring Dreams', and completed a successful tour to promote the album. How come, a few months down the line, the band had split ?

That's a very good question! I don't know. It was like a bomb dropping out of the sky for me. We had run up a huge bill with A&M, and our manager, in his infinite wisdom, had a plan. He said to us, "Look, you're up for renewal on your contract with A&M. They're gonna want to re-sign you, because obviously you've come this far, you want to go the whole hog. What we're gonna do is pretend that you've all lost interest in the band, and that there would be no point in them resigning you. They will then drop you and you'll be asked to be released from your contract." Which he merrily did. He marched in to A&M, went to speak to everyone at the top, and said "Europeans have lost confidence in the label and want be set free of the contract. They're not really sure what the future holds." The record company, hearing this were absolutely gobsmacked. Europeans were one of the label's most full on, determined and enthusiastic bands, trudging all over the country, playing left right and centre, giving their all every night. A&M were baffled, but if that's what we wanted to do, then fair enough. So, off we went. At this point, Mark Thompson then started hawking us around with the new demos we had for the third album. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, his management company was in trouble. He basically projected how much of an advance he needed to get so that his percentage would cover the debt that he had!




Ferg Live on The Tube in 1984


So Mark was marching into record labels and asking for a quarter of a million pounds advance! He was selling us as 'the next U2', demanding all kinds of stuff, and being very arrogant about it. The feedback we got from record companies later was that this man was being completely ridiculous in his requests. They liked the band, but not for a quarter of a million pounds! We later found out that 'Siren' Records did offer to sign us, but the amount of money they offered was obviously not interesting to Mark Thompson, and he knocked them back. But of course he never bothered to tell us that.




In the middle of all this, Colin and Steve (who had written a lot of stuff for the third Europeans album) took fright. The message they were getting from Mark, was that a lot of two-piece bands were now getting signed. Steve was probably interested in doing more of his vocals, so they thought they could take the demos for the third album and become a two piece. So, there was a meeting one day in Mark Thompson's office. I remember Colin and Steve were just staring at the floor, not making a lot of eye contact. And it was suddenly announced that Steve and Colin were leaving the band! I nearly lost bladder control! I said "What are you talking about? We've come all these years, this far, and you're telling me you're quitting on me now? You must be off your head!" So me and Geoff reeled in shock. I was literally in a daze for a week or more. It was like the whole world had come to an end. I had completely devoted myself to this project, since my schooldays, and suddenly someone was telling me it was finished!'




What did you do after the euros split ?

Mark Thompson told me and Geoff that if we write some songs he would try and get us a deal too! As it was, we wrote some songs, which were rather ridiculously commercial and poppy. We were probably getting a little bit desperate by that stage. We got a band together of various people we knew, and did a few showcases, but nobody liked it. In hindsight, I probably don't blame them! We soon realised that no-one was really desperately interested in what we were doing, and a whole void just opened up. And of course Colin and Steve got signed to CBS which was like another nail in the coffin. They got a deal, and we didn't!

I then did a couple of sessions, some stuff for Tom Watkins. I sang the backing vocals for 'Bros.' [embarrassed laugh] It wasn't supposed to work out like that. Tom had a band called 'Spelt Like This' on EMI, and they split. They had a whole load of unused material, so he got me to sing a load of that stuff. I don't know whether he was just trying me out, or whether he really wanted to use some of this material for me. Then he came up with another horrendous piece of music called 'When Will I Be Famous' ,which was the biggest steaming pile of crap that I'd ever heard. But I gave it a go. I can't even remember how I attempted to sing it. However, all the backing vocals I had sung for my own rendition consequently ended up being all the backing vocals on the actual single. I never got paid for it. That went to Number One I think!

The other bizarre thing I got a call for one day, was from 'Frankie Goes to Hollywood' when Holly Johnson left. I got hustled into this management office, and was told that the band were interested in me replacing Holly Johnson! I thought 'F*ck, that sounds all right, I'll do it !' They then said 'Well, can you sing heavy rock?' It turns out they were going for a complete change of direction, from poppy, dancy stuff to heavy metal rock! I left them some of the poppy stuff I had done recently, but obviously it wasn't in this new heavy rock vein that they had decided to go off on, so that didn't come together. Had they decided to stay with the 'Relax', 'Two Tribes' type thing, it probably would have worked quite well. I don't look like Holly Johnson, but I don't look entirely dissimilar. It would have ended up a hell of a lot better for me !




And after that ? You gave up music for good ?

Well, I quickly realised I had to get a job ! I wasn't gonna get paid anymore! So I went off and got a job waiting tables in Peppermint Park in the West End. That was the point when music fluttered out the window for me. I started immersing myself in West End Club life, getting into a whole different social area. I was earning my own money, blowing it, partying and having a really good time. After a few months, I decided to go to America. I always wanted to go back, so I pissed off to New York and got a job working in Manhatten. The very dawn of disco 'house' music was happening in New York then, and it opened up a whole new world for me. I went to clubs and heard forms of dance music that I had never heard in England before. Any musical thoughts I had about writing or performing songs completely disappeared. So that was really that. I just let it go.




Did you keep in touch with Colin & Steve ?

No. At that point, there was a rather large rift between us. Geoff and I were still rather upset, which is a mild way of putting it! We thought that The Europeans had been unnecessarily destroyed in their blossoming stage, so we really didn't want to talk to them at that stage. In subsequent years, all that stuff is water under the bridge. Things happen in life and you can't carry it. I don't really think about it now. It was just a shame, and I would have loved to have seen what would have happened.


Ferg Harper




So you didn't hear any of the 'How We Live' album ?

I knew that some of it was demos, that had been written for the third album (most of which were brought by Steve and Colin in formed songs). Mark Thompson arranged a thing called 'The Apportionment,' which was some sort of decree that the demo material was split into halves. I don't know how much of the How We Live material was contributed to by me and Geoff. We had certainly all jammed it, and played it in the recording studio. I remember that some of it was carried forward into the How We Live album. It was a little bizarre for me, because they were the songs that we were gonna do! I never actually heard the album. To this day I don't think I've heard it!




There was talk about the re-release of the albums on to CD ?

Yeah, we re-signed a publishing deal. The idea was to get the tapes from Polygram who owns them now. The publisher went in to ask for the masters, so as we could print them off on to CDs and sell them through the internet site. It was a pretty straight forward plan. Until we went in and they asked for an outrageous sum of money, like ten thousand pounds! So that whole idea has been on the backburner for about a year now. The other guys are very busy: Geoff is in Japan for four months, Steve's doing all these Marillion and h band gigs, and Colin's probably in America somewhere. Nobody's given it 100% of their thought. Maybe I should because I'm the one who's sitting around, with the time to do it ! But yeah, eventually, there will be an approach made again to the record company. I hope that they'll be a bit more sensible about it, and we can get it out on the Marillion website.




Ferg at Dingwalls, Summer 2000


How about a re-union show. What are your thoughts on that ?

I was asked at the beginning of this summer: 'Would I like to do a one-off re-union gig at the Mean Fiddler?' It was a curious thought. I asked if we were going to write some new songs to settle in there, and they said 'No, no we're just gonna do all the old stuff.' So how's this gonna work ? I haven't sung or played for fifteen years! I don't even remember how to play the bass guitar, far less remember how to play the songs or how to sing the backing vocals. I (personally) would have to do a tremendous amount of rehearsing to do this. I also said 'Do you really seriously expect me to stand up and sing 'The Animal Song' in front of people?' It was fun in it's day, but in the year 2000 am I gonna feel a little bit daft, singing in this deep operatic voice ? I wasn't sure that I'd feel entirely confident doing that. They suggested we do a 'Year 2000' version. It was a good idea, but there would be nothing worse than getting back together, do a show, and it really wasn't as good as it used to be, and it was a bit crappy. So I kind of knocked it on the head and said 'No.'




Unfortunately I was the one person who said I wouldn't do it! I don't know if that makes me a grouch. If we did get the masters back, and we did re-release 'Recurring Dreams' or the other albums, and there was a response, I would not mind the idea of doing three or four new tracks as an 'add on.' Almost like 'This is what we would do had we been thinking about it nowadays" I would be more interested in attempting something new, rather than rehashing the old stuff. That would stimulate me. The idea of actually writing with the guys and rehearsing, and going from there.




To finish, what is your favourite, defining memory of the 'Europeans' ?

We used to do some really good gigs, like at the 'London School of Economics'. I remember one particular gig where we were supported by The Blow Monkeys. It was the point where we were just becoming quite well known. The place was packed, and I remember the whole crowd jumping up and down. Everybody was singing the songs, and it was just one of those magic evenings where everything clicked so well. The lights were great, the sound was great. It was a totally professional, fabulous show, and we knew it! I came off stage feeling absolutely electrified, and I remember thinking that evening that "god, this is really an incredible buzz when it all goes right like this."




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