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BEN BROWTON AKA SEYMOUR BYBUSS OF THE SHAPES CHATS WITH SHELLEY.

It’s fantastic to be interviewing Ben Browton, AKA Seymour Bubuss from 70’s punk band The Shapes.

Spunkadelica photo: David Mcairley

Born on the Isle of Wight in 1958, Ben first formed the band aged 19 with Gareth Holder (AKA Brian Helicopter) in Leamington Spa. Other members were Tim Jee, Dave Gee and Steve Richards. Their “Part of the Furniture” EP and “Airline Disaster” single became John Peel classics. After a spell on Terri Hooley’s Good Vibrations record label they split three years later. I’ve become re-acquainted with those catchy, humorous punk-pop tunes thanks to Overground releasing “Songs for Sensible People”, a back catalogue of Shapes material. Sadly I didn’t see them live first time round but excitement prevails as they’re set to play Kentish Town Forum with the Damned and other bands on December 13th

Ben’s had a thoroughly interesting career since the Shapes disbanded including sculpture, music, performance art and even appeared as Sister Bendy on Channel Fours Eurotrash. Read on to find out more…..

Shelley - How did you first get into punk?

Ben  - A school friend invited me to go to Oxford in October 1976 to see the Vibrators, the Sean Tyla Gang and The Stranglers. On the train there we met some Banbury punks Carl & his mate who looked great. The following month we went to see the Sex Pistols and The Clash at Lanchester Polytechnic in Coventry. I was completely blown-away by the gig, and was lucky to get backstage and meet the bands. Fortunately I had taken a camera with me and got some great live shots. (These can be seen at trakmarx.com)

Trakmarx 11 - Interview with The Shapes
Trakmarx 19 - Through A Lens Darkly; my punk and Shapes photos
Trakmarx 24 - Poetry Corner; Capra Hircus
Trakmarx 27 - Poetry Corner; Stomack
Trakmarx 30 - Poetry Corner; Maelstrom


From that gig onwards I was completely hooked - wore the clothes, bought the records, started a band.

Shelley - Can you tell us how The Shapes came together?

Ben  - I had been expelled from school and was working in a petrol station. A chap from my old school called Brian Helicopter came in one day and asked me if I would audition to be the drummer. About two seconds into the audition, it was clear that I did not have a drumkit, so I became the singer Seymour Bybuss.

Shelley - Is it true we should thank Midland Red buses for your name? Did you have any other punky monikers in mind?

Ben  - Ah yes - I had a bus ticket on which it said "See more by bus", which inspired me. My first Shapes name was actually Wreck Tangle, but I felt that Seymour Bybuss was more silly. I was reacting against the seriousness & po-facedness of other bands at the time. 

Shelley - Where was your first gig? Were there many venues in Leamington Spa?

Ben  - The Spa Centre in Leam. We got banned for chucking a catering-sized can of baked beans over the audience. There were a few other places - we ended up doing The Crown Hotel at the bottom of town a few times - they were very welcoming to us. We also played a gig in Leamington with The Automatics (who re-formed as The Specials) but I don't remember where. There was a community centre in Bath Place where we rehearsed; they put on a mini-festival for Rock against Racism, at which we played. 

Shelley - I first heard The Shapes on John Peel & loved “Wots for Lunch Mum? (Not Beans Again)” and “Batman (in the Launderette)”. What inspired these songs?

Ben  - Ah. Good question. It was not drugs for sure. Maybe Ansells' Bitter. I think I just had a fertile, naturally Dada kind-of-imagination - interesting juxtapositions of things. Creating hyper-reality with my lyrics to avoid daily boredom. I was a big fan of Adam West's Batman, and I think it was his version I saw in the Launderette. I loved his swishy black cape & underpants.

The beans thing just because they were always the old standby when mothers (bless 'em) could not be bothered to cook. It was also influenced by the song Food, Glorious Food from the musical Oliver! Which I performed in twice as a teenager - once as a member of Fagin's gang, and once as a punter/boozer in the Oom-Pa-Pa scene!   

Shelley - Any interesting memories of recording your Peel session?

Ben  - I just found it thrilling and a great privilege to record the session. Apparently, The Shapes were mistaken for Adam and the Ants in the BBC canteen, and asked for our autographs. The session was produced by Trevor Dan (or Trevor Daft as John Peel referred to him). He was very nice to us.

Shelley - You were on the same record label as the Undertones. How did that come about?

Ben  - I think Brian Helicopter got in touch with Terri Hooley in desperation because we did not have a deal, or any money to release the second single. In memory it was a master-stroke, because we went to Belfast twice to play gigs - once in Ulster Hall supporting The Saints, and once at Maysfield with The Membranes The people were fantastic and welcoming. It was just odd seeing British tommies toting rifles and tazzing around in armoured cars. As a special treat, Terri took us to the Europa Hotel for a fabulous Ulster Fry.

Sadly, the single Airline Disaster/Blast Off was a disaster sales wise, and in our shame, we threw about 600 copies off a bridge over the River Leam under cover of darkness one night.

Shelley - Having lived in Birmingham, I saw tons of bands but didn’t catch The Shapes. I’m sure you must have played at Barbarella’s or other places? Did I miss something?

Ben  - We never played Barbarella's, although I saw plenty of bands there - Rezillos, Subway Sect, Clash, Gang of Four to name a few. It was a wonderful place - seedy and glamorous, and heaving with great-looking people. Well worth the drive from Leam.

Shelley - A question I’ve been dying to ask- how did you get the part of Sister Bendy, the cycling nun, on Eurotrash?

Ben  - Hmmm...I performed my song "Maxwell Confait” (In Memoriam) for a Talent Contest at the Way Out Club in London. This was a TV/TG club, so I think I did not win because the song is about a transvestite who was murdered in 1972. Anyway, some weeks later, Rapido called me having been recommended to by Vicky Lee, hostess of the Way Out. I went to Rapido's offices in Notting Hill, and did an audition. I got the part. They had already come up with the concept of Sister Bendy being a spoof of Sister Wendy Beckett - I guess my portrayal was pious and coy enough for Rapido to take me on. I only recently found out from Grayson Perry that he had turned the part down when offered it. And look what he went on to achieve!

Thus I was sent off with bicycle and guitar to interview lots of weird and pretty barking artists in Europe, and to record links in Paris with Antoine De Caunes. It was all great fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I was dropped after nine episodes, despite the ratings rising while I was on. I never found out why?

Shelley - You now live in Hastings. What took you to East Sussex?

Ben  - I got fed up with London. I'd been there since 1982. Moving out of London was always about moving to Brighton, but I never fancied that. I came down in 2006 to visit my old friend Alex Brattell, and drove back to London knowing that this was the place, It has the same down-at-heel feel that London had back in the 1980's and a fantastic artistic and musical heritage. It's largely free of corporate crap, and the architecture is wonderful. The people are very friendly, and best of all is Rock A-Nore, where I buy fresh fish just off the boats. Many things I like. It's easy to be creative here, and the rents are cheap. Also, I was born on the Isle of Wight, so it's kind of my coast.

Shelley - Do you listen to much music these days? Any recommendations?

Ben  - I love my LP collection gathered over the past 35 years, including flamenco and cheesy world music, and oddities like LP's full of train recordings or bird song. I've re-bought some LP's I had in the past and missed badly, like the Sadista Sisters and the first Au Pairs album, and Real Life by Magazine.

Of contemporary stuff, I love The Inconsolables (a huge tip who I got down to Hastings to play the Brass Monkey (swoon!) They have a 2nd single out soon called "Hoverfly". (www.theinconsolables.com) Ipso Facto I came across at Myspace (www.myspace.com/ipsofacto) & just adored. Their first single "Harmonise" was beautiful, and I just received "Ears and Eyes", their 2nd. (Funnily enough, the girls recorded their third single to be released this Autumn with the great and cuddly John Rivers in Leamington). I very much liked the "Fur and Gold" album by Bat For Lashes. Natasha Khan has a very sensual voice. John Rivers recorded all The Shapes material between 1977 and 1980 at his studio in Leamington - that's why I was so chuffed when I knew Ipso Facto were recording there

To The Moon, Alice (from Hastings -- a recommendation...a tip-for-the-top) I saw recently in the Blue Reef Aquarium in Rock A-Nore - the first gig I've ever attended where the audience were surrounded by fish (very-Shapes!).  They are young and energetic, and Dave the singer is really, really good (www.ttma.co.uk)

Generally I tend just to get heavily into one thing at a time - like I did with Goldfrapp's "Felt Mountain", and with Lamb's debut album and Arcade Fire's first album, and then move on. Apart from that I'm really boring - I listen to Radio 4. I also love Late Junction on Radio 3 - I never know what will come on next, and its perfect lullaby stuff before bed.

TranSiren (2007) photo : Marc Beaussart
post production : Loic @ Exit Productions, Paris
(With apologies to Nick de Ville)

Shelley - You’re currently involved with many interesting projects: film production, art, D.J’ing. Please tell us more.

Ben  - Mr Eclectic. I set up Plush Productions with my wife Lady Plush last year. We made a short Hastings-based film called "The Air Catchers" in 2007, and have produced some short documentaries, including one with Grayson Perry. Myspace has just licensed these two for a new shorts channel launching in the Autumn. Film-making is very intense, technology-heavy and labour intensive...I cannot do too much because it causes my blood pressure to soar to dangerous levels.

The DJ'ing came about when a Hastings-chap Clive Gross invited me to get involved with a monthly punk/new wave night at the Brass Monkey called The Wire. I offered to DJ using my original 7" singles. I love doing it and recently DJ'd a small festival called Harpesbury in the guise of DJ Agent Orange.

The art ticks along, but is mostly short-film making. I got fed up of draughty cold studios. Apart from that I'm currently just letting things unwind at their own pace. I've done a lot of stuff over the years and it's time to take stock. That's why I launched cacaphonique - as a virtual museum for all my creative stuff - I'll keep adding things over time.

I've also been doing a bit of collaborating with Hex and Mark from Hypjoint (www.myspace.com/hypjoint). Their track "One Touch" is beautiful, and listening to it has helped me through my recent tough times. Hex's spoken words are really inspiring and sensual.And Then there is The Shapes - re-forming and rehearsing and arguing!

Shelley - It’s fantastic news about The Shapes playing Kentish Town Forum in December (plug plug). How did the reunion occur? Have you kept in touch with Brian Helicopter et al over the years? Will we see the original line-up?

Ben  - The promoter Bradders had been pestering me (sweetly) for a while to re-form for things like the Wasted Festival in Morecambe Bay, but I kept declining because I was trying to move forward with new projects. However, this year he offered us the chance to support The Damned at the Kentish Town Forum. It coincided with a time of marital uncertainty, and I just thought "Sod it, I'll do it!" I am very close to Tim Jee as he just lives up the road in Lewes, and had seen Dave Gee last year when Tim and I went to his house to record a version of  "Vegetable Man" by Syd Barrett (ask me why another time ???!). Brian has always been around since the 1998 release of “Songs for Sensible People" on Overground, albeit in America. I have recently been in touch with Steve Richards, who I'm very much looking forward to getting to know again.. So yes, bar any accidents, it certainly will be the original line-up. Bradders remarked that this is quite rare due to the high fall-off in terms of drug and drink casualties and accidental and natural deaths of old punksters. Tim and I are the only ones with head hair left however and I'm certainly the most handsome.

Shelley - Finally, any plans for more gigs or is the Forum show a one-off? What does the future hold for The Shapes?

Ben  - We currently have a Yahoo forum where we kick ideas around (and occasionally each other's egos). We want to do some warm-ups before London, and I have provisionally booked us in to do The Crypt in Hastings supported by The Inconsolables, the Prince Albert in Brighton supported by Dates (fronted by Bob of The Piranhas). We will definitely do one in Leamington, possibly supported by Domestic Bliss (fronted by my mate Jean Encoule of trakmarx). There is also talk of a one-off rooftop gig in Rhodes, but I think this is just so that Steve Richard's mum can feed us full of moussaka. We are also designing one-off tour t-shirts and button badges, and have christened our mini-tour the "Pathetique" tour (after the fact that apparently we are credited with starting a mini-movement within punk called "punk pathetique"). I understand that "Songs For Sensible People" has been re-pressed, copies of which will be available at the gigs.

I understand that Gareth is negotiating a possible re-release of "Songs For Sensible People" in Japan, so who knows...

Japanese waiter - "Sushi and Sake, Bybuss sán?

Seymour Bybuss - "Haì! Haì! Haì! Haì!  Haì!

 LINKS TO FIND BEN AND THE SHAPES

Catch the Shapes at Rebellion on December 13th

www.kentishtownforum.com

www.rebellionfestivals.com

Songs for Sensible People CD available via Overground

www.overgroundrecords.co.uk

Check out a showcase of Ben’s fab artwork

www.cacaphonique.com

Browton film production company 

www.plushproductions.co.uk

Ben’s MySpace page

www.myspace.com/seymourbybuss

Shapes MySpace page run by Gareth Holder  

http://www.myspace.com/brianhelicopter

Shapes history- excellent read by Gareth

www.hyped2death.com/shapes

On Punk 77 web site 

Shelley Guild