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Listening now to early Generation X it’s surprising how political and topical they were. By the second album, with its glitzy cover and glitzier singles, there is the patina of Springsteenisms and wannabe stadium fodder afoot. Having not made the stadium (as Idol later did, in spades) the band regrouped and launched a roots counteroffensive with “Kiss Me Deadly”, one of the great British rock’n’roll albums, infused with, for this band, a disarming humility, and a sterling standard of writing and playing flattered by a sawn-off, alternately brutish and nearly balletic Sixties ethos. However, the public was now mostly tired of the posing and promises, promises of the great power punk singles band and despite their impressive track record they dissolved with little fanfare.

Idol and Sputnik I let go after a few sides; they were good, clever, calculated, but they weren’t “Promises, Promises”, which had the trademark Generation X smugness but still retained soul. By the time the solo careers started the soul had been forcefully evicted, leaving a stripped down shark position in its place because, you see, Generation X – well, its engine room, anyway, those original, pedigree punks Idol and James, with all their genuine pop genius – were always en route to something shinier.

Mick Jones, James’ old friend, whose band The Clash reinvented rock’n’roll, was from the other side of the tracks and his band lived there happily most of its glorious life whereas James, a sort of pseudo-spiv for a new, more bloodless age, bided his time through the sentimental squalor of punk, waiting for his main chance to ensnare and embarrass the business, which he did in fantastic style when Sputnik massaged and milked the majors. - Jeremy Gluck 27/03/10

JEREMY: Sigue Sigue Sputnik seems to have not only survived but flourished. What has been the provenance that has made this possible?

TONY: Sputnik... well it was always a band about the imagining of the future of rock and roll and maybe reality is still catching up with that band. Of course I see it differently now, my vision flawed by the tools we had in those days - stone age computers and technology but I still love the fundamentals that came together to make it, what I still believe to be, extraordinary - combining Suicide with the Cramps, Donna Summer and T Rex, Bowie and sci-fi and dub reggae... see no one sounds like that band still, it was a very powerful sound and the characters involved were the real thing... one day, one day.

JEREMY: What are your personal favourite G/X tracks?

TONY: Oh, “Kiss Me Deadly” and most of all "Dancing with Myself", because that track has a magic that connects you. See, it is so hard to write a song that touches people in a positive, uplifting way, and that song does it - that’s why its used in so many movies and adverts now - you hear that opening drumbeat and it lifts you, but more the lyric is easy to relate to. I love the version by the band "Nouvelle Vague" and it’s their take that is used in the TV series "Glee". 

Read here the story of that song - Go to the blog called "First you meet the girl...then you write the hit......"

JEREMY: In later life I have developed great affection for Generation X dub. A few words on the genesis and progression of these tracks would be appreciated.

TONY: From the first time Billy and I met Don Letts playing dub reggae when he was the shop assistant at Acme Attractions in the Kings Road we loved that music and always wanted to try to make it work in rock and roll. We made that track with the producer Phil Wainman at Utopia Studios in Primrose Hill - hard to believe it was a ground breaking track, “Wild Dub”. It took bands a long time to get it right - to apply the feeling rather than a homage - PIL finally got it right with their first single in my opinion.

JEREMY: My fave Generation X track is "Promises Promises". How does its lyric and context strike you now?

TONY: I wrote the lyrics to that song sitting in the front room in the flat where I had grown up in Kenyon Street in Fulham where my grandmother then lived. I stayed with her during the early days of Generation X - we had no money for flats in those days. Living with your gran became a punk rock thing!

It was inspired by Mott and it’s a very Mott type lyric. Billy wrote a great tune for it. It was very heartfelt, but still played on that generational thing. Listening to it now.... well it sounds too fast! But then everything was. It’s a nice tale of the moment. Did we sell out? I hope not.

JEREMY: Of "Kiss Me Deadly" I say: "...“Kiss Me Deadly”, one of the great British rock’n’roll albums, infused with, for this band, a disarming humility, and a sterling standard of writing and playing flattered by a sawn-off, alternately brutish and nearly balletic Sixties ethos”.

TONY: Well, kind of you to say. Billy and I were actually heavily influenced by Public Image on that record. But it came out of a lot of internal strife - the band had fractured and heroin had reared its ugly head into our band splitting the friendship of Billy and I and dividing the band into two of the Do ers and Non - it is an impossible presence to deal with. It is still painful to think about although Billy and I have long since made our peace. But there were some magic times and magic songs to come out of it.

JEREMY: If you had your Generation X time again what would you do differently, if anything?

TONY: Kept Laff and Derwood from leaving... definitely. They were great.... maybe their journey was important for them, but we should have talked more. You don't when you're young though do you. I had this conversation with Strummer just before he died - we were all about communication but we never communicated with each other. Sorry.

JEREMY: "Valley of the Dolls" was a brash and ambitious album. To what audience was it pitched; it seems a very singular work against its time, almost defiant, if not petulant.

TONY:Hmmm, looking back it was TOO grandiose for its own good. Damn Springsteen. But how great to work with Hunter and we wanted to make bigger music than the scratchy punk music that we started with. We wrote our biggest hit “King Rocker” the night before we recorded it because Hunter sent us home saying - "there's no hit, go home and write one". And we did. But hey, we did play Zeppelin songs in the soundcheck.

JEREMY: I get the feeling - I may be wrong - that even the futurism and idiosyncrasies of SS Sputnik don't quite cover your own vision for what is possible for your music and music in general, and even pop culture. Is this so? What is in your vision now?

TONY: Oh Jeremy.... Sputnik was my grand design... these days, I'm playing lead guitar not bass, and damn I enjoy that. Why oh why did I not learn guitar all those years ago, its such I can live out my fantasy of being in the MC5, play simple rock and roll, write from the heart and from experience, embrace the new counter culture of the internet and have a good time ..otherwise its not worth doing....and, well as we say, if there's a revolution going on - count me in.

x Tony James 2010

Interview by Jeremy Gluck 27/03/10 -
Read the full feature on Generation X here:
Photo of Tony (Sputnik era) taken by Mel - signed photo Mel's own

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