The Resistance - Q&A Interview with Mark Damron

The following is a Q&A Interview I conducted with Mark Damron in February 2020. I sent him an email with some questions in it, and he sent me the answers. Unusually, his responses were not only grammatically faultless but also so clear, comprehensive and interesting that it would have been pointless even attempting to edit them. So here it is, then, the interview...

The Resistance (England, UK)

Where and when was The Resistance formed (I am guessing Liverpool because you mention Eric's), and what was the original lineup?

The Resistance was formed in '76 in the seaside town of Crosby, Merseyside (now famous for Antony Gormley's brass men looking out to sea) and was initially comprised of myself and my friend John O'Leary (brilliant bass player and great force of Nature, sadly taken from this plane by the Big C in April 2018). Through John I was introduced to the Resistance manager and key mentor Viv Broughton (now a successful East End recording studio entrepreneur). We hatched a plan that we would all re-locate to London. The squat scene was still alive and strong at the time, so this transition could be made remarkably easily and 'cost-effectively'. In London, we auditioned drummers and after a false start, found 15-year old prodigy Martin Saunders who became the anchor of the band. We went out as a 3-piece and began to get regular gigs and gather steady momentum. In 1978, our old school friend, classically-trained keyboardist Iain Reid joined the band and that's when we started to get some real traction, leading to significant support gigs, radio play and a major recording and publishing deal.

What was the initial inspiration for the group?

Punk was definitely the galvanising impetus for getting it together. There was no excuse to sit on the sofa anymore, it was time for England's dreaming to end and for every band to get real. But the band was always conceived as a showcase for my songs.

Can you describe the mood of the time, as you saw it, and how it informed what the band sounded like and did?

The mood of the times was violent and often ugly. Racism's nasty head was all too apparent in the East End where we living initially. But there was also a really strong belief in a collective political will and a real belief that we could all shape society for the better in some strange unaccountable way (a kind of amorphous youthful idealism that manifested in things like Rock Against Racism). We definitely picked up on some of the energy and urgency of Punk. However, we were all accomplished musicians who'd been playing since our early teens and we thought it would be bogus if we tried to pretend that we were punky three-chord wonders who didn't know our way around our instruments. As the main songwriter, I'd say the people who really influenced me back then were Kevin Coyne, Joan Armatrading, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and John Lennon (him as an artist rather than the Beatles). We were schooled in the university of classic songwriting and that was always our priority as a band. We also had high regard for contemporary acts like The Only Ones and Magazine. Because we were called the Resistance it seemed to us that it would have been a bit of a cop-out if we'd sounded like all the other bands around. So we resolutely tried to plough our own furrow which led to our bizarre first single choice (which actually end up getting us some worthwhile attention because it was so out of kilter with the times).

How many gigs do you think you played and what of reception did you get? Any good stories from these (there must be at least one!)

The Resistance / The Police Live Gig ReviewWe gigged intermittently and never got to play as much as we liked. We probably averaged out at one or two a month. There were venues that didn't like us (the Hope and Anchor) and venues that did – like the Rock Garden in Covent Garden that were always great supporters of the band and gave us a great Central London showcase. We were very much a Marmite band and receptions could vary from joyful approval to bemused antipathy. A case in point being two gigs we played back to back with the Police as they were starting their meteoric ascent. The first night was at Kings College in London and it was a dream for us…the sound was great, we played well, the audience loved us. Sting even made a point of coming up to me afterwards and saying: "If I'd known you were going to be that good, I'd have sabotaged your equipment" in a jokily threatening kind of way. The next night we supported them at Leeds Poly and the silence in between songs was absolutely deafening…I swear I could hear my stubble growing. The biggest nightmare gig was when we were a three-piece and we were mistakenly booked into a gig in Bristol which turned out to be a supper club where a load of couples were dressed to the nines, eating chicken in a basket and obviously expecting to hear Tie A Yellow Ribbon and the Green Green Grass of Home, not some arty three-piece from London. I was stoned out of my gourd and had to be physically pushed back onto the stage after every number by my manager. And we had to play for an hour and a half in order to get paid, so I guess you could describe it as half gig/half marathon wrestling match.

What inspired the subject matter of all four songs on the singles, and can you provide more info on the recording process for them (I love this kind of thing)?

The first single A-side 'Kidnapped' was an epic love song, inspired by 'Macarthur Park' by Richard Harris. The B-side 'Say No To The Macho' was a peppy little bopalong pro-feminist anthem that also managed to have its tongue slyly in its cheek in those ever-so politically right-on times. The second single 'Survival Kit' was a song that took the mickey out of all those “you've got to be tough to make it in this business” tropes that we were constantly hearing. The B-side 'Big Flame' was about a bunch of past their sell-by date revolutionaries.

Any other recordings made?

Yes, we spent £100,000 in the most expensive studio in London (McCartney was in the smaller studio next door) recording an album called “Black Comedy” that never got released (change of A&R men, tale too long-winded to tell here).

Was Maquis Records founded especially to release your single? Can't see any more releases on the label.

Maquis was obviously a label name chosen by us but it was actually distributed by Faulty Products, Miles Copeland's label, hence the Police connection.

[Punky Gibbon note: my shocking ignorance of modern history is revealed! The Maquis was, according to Wikipedia, "the French resistance movement during the German occupation (1940–5)". Had to look that one up.]

How was it you ended up on Fontana and what was the deal with the two covers for Survival Kit?

We signed to multinational giant Phonogram and they said we could choose whichever label imprint we wanted. So we chose Fontana because we liked the logo and it'd been inactive for quite a few years and we thought it'd be fun to revive it…a sort of retro-cool in our innocent minds.

The first cover with the box was designed by our manager and obviously an entirely appropriate attempt to visualise the song. The second cover was done behind our back by some managers we'd hired that turned out to be a mistake…they wanted to create something more in keeping with the prevailing industrial/downbeat/dark Joy Division vibe that was around at the time, despite the fact that it was completely inappropriate for the poppy piece of vinyl that lay within.

And what's the story behind that weird fucking thing with the big head on the back of one of those covers?

Don't ask…a terrible attempt to interpret the title of our album..which was called Black Comedy.

Did the new wave make you or anyone else in the band rich?

Nope. Short answer. And if the album had been released, we'd have been in the hole for a massive amount of date that would have taken light years to pay off.

Who do you think were the most important bands to come out of punk/new wave?

I think the only way I could define important, would be to measure it in terms of how much influence they'd had on bands subsequently and I'd have to name two bands that I saw at Eric's in one evening…The Ramones and the Talking Heads. The Ramones were obviously a massive influence on every hardcore post-punk band in terms of velocity and attack, right up to bands like Green Day. Talking Heads similarly had a massive influence on every art rock band that came subsequently. From the punk-funk of bands like Orange Juice, right up to the present day with artist like St Vincent. They were the two major tributaries from which a lot of bands flowed.

Was the Resistance even a punk band?

If you take Punk to mean a genre of fast rocknroll …then no. If you take Punk to mean a musical perverseness and independent spirit then 'yes' cf. releasing a near-four-minute epic complex romantic acoustic love ballad at a time when most records were two and a half minute short sharp shocks.

You mention an amazing list of excellent bands. Any strong memories of witnessing those and how did they affect your own group's music, if at all?

I think when I saw a band like the Clash I realised that we had to seriously up our energy level on stage. It was like an energy gauntlet that had to be picked up. Though the most wild performer I saw at Eric's was John Cale who started ripping the cable from the ceiling like a Welsh madman. I think also seeing bands like Siouxsie/XTC you realised that this thing called Punk was actually a call to arms rather than a style and if you were really Punk, you would resolutely explore your own musical terrain without giving a flying one about what anybody else thought. All the bands also instilled in me the importance of being concise…start your song up, say what you have to say, then stop. An idea that's stayed with me ever since.

When did the band break up, and what did you all do next?

The band broke up in 1981. Iain, the keyboard player became a music teacher and played in various bands including Fingerprintz as well as playing in a variety of jazz and classical settings. John, the bass player became a teacher and stockbroker in Spain where he had a band doing his music before moving back here and ending his working days as a cabbie back in the 'Pool. Martin, the drummer moved on to be in an early version of the Waterboys and played in various cover bands while carving out a career as a Call Centre Manager and has since retired and moved to Spain. I enjoyed a long career as a writer in Advertising which has led me to working and living both here and in San Francisco. I've now returned to my singer/songwriter roots and formed an acoustic duo called the Footsore Pilgrims. We've just re-released our first album “Damascus Lights & Blackpool Illuminations”. Still writing and gigging regularly.

And any final thoughts?

The thing with being in a band that's unfortunate is that your best chance of making it is when you're at your most hormone-fuelled, irrational and naive. One or two wrong moves and you can easily mess up your supposed 'one big shot'. It's a bit like a game of Snakes and Ladders – a lot of fortuitous moves need to happen one after the other or you can quickly find yourself at the bottom of the board. But whatever happens, it's always a wonderful, exciting and noble calling.


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