Interview with Dennis Munday
Dennis Munday is a key figure in the career of The Jam. He was the A&R man at Polydor from the 70s, right through to the mid 80s, personally responsible for The Jam during that exciting time. For a band like The Jam to get where they wanted to be, they needed someone at Polydor who understood and empathised with them. Someone who perceived them as a separate entity from the legions of other mediocre new wave bands. Thankfully, through Dennis Munday, Polydor gave The Jam, the treatment they deserved. Talking to Dennis it's clear there is still a special bond there. Matteo Sedezzani and his brother Paulo took him out for a beer.
So tell us how you first started working for Polydor?
I got into Polydor through working at the HMV store in Oxford Street. One of the Sales & Marketing managers came in and offered me a gig. Several of the record companies offered me salesmen jobs but I always wanted to be on the creative side of the business - I guess that would have been around 1972.
Who was on Polydor at the time?
The Who, The New Seekers, Slade, The Osmonds the back catalogue of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Where you a mod?
Oh yeah in the Sixties round my way, most of the kids were mods. Although I rode motorbikes (!) I was still a mod - it was a style thing. I was very naïve, but then who wasn't. It's impossible for teenagers not to be naïve, although the kids now a'days are growing up a lot more quickly, particularly the girls! When I was working in Jazz, a guy, whose name I can't remember now, gave me the best quote ever about being young. He said - ( being young is like ) 'You're running down the road with your prick in your hand'. That's the best description I've heard of being young.
But there's nothing wrong with being naive. I still am, at 50 and I like to think that I still opened minded - I prefer naivety to cynicism any day. The thing that pisses me off about my generation, especially the people I grew up with, is how cynical and how narrow minded they've become. I have mates who tell me that Oasis are never going to last. Exactly what my Father said to me in 1964 about the Stones!
So when you first met Paul - did you see something of yourself?
The Jam used to turn up to the Polydor offices, often without appointments and just hang around - see what was happening. He was 17, I was 27 - I used to look at him and think that was me ten years ago - mohair suits! - It was quite unreal.
Did they get drunk in the office?
No - they didn't get drunk in the office as I recall. But they did plenty of that outside. They were serious drinkers those boys.
Where you around for the legendary Leeds incident?
No I missed that. As I heard it, there was bunch of Rugby League lads over from Australia booked into the same hotel - they started winding Paul up. Then they said something about Gill, which really got Paul going. So he steamed in and Bruce followed him. Can you believe it these two skinny guys, fronting a firm of 17/18 stone rugby players?
Did they get nicked for it?
They went to Court but the case was dismissed. ( Paul recieved a fine and allegedly bound to hold the peace for one year)
So when did you first get involved with The Jam?
At the time of the release of `David Watts/A Bomb in Wardour Street`. My immediate reaction to Punk music was slightly negative, coz I was a generation back. At the time there was an awful lot of crap flying around - bad bands and I wasn't really sure about punk/new wave. I really liked `Anarchy In The UK`. But this would appeal to me as I'm into anarchy anyway. Anarchy is a great thing - in terms of pop politics etc. The track that really turned me on to the new wave scene was 'New Rose' by The Dammed - which is still my all time favourite from that era. In fact the time is now right for a bit of anarchy in the music biz again. There is some serious crud played on the radio today.
Did Paul come across as ambitious when you first met him?
He wanted to go somewhere not necessarily to Number 1. He definitely knew where he was going from an early age. I knew he had the talent, I knew he would last the distance. Working with Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie & Oscar Peterson who had careers spanning 5 decades, as I had done, I learnt to recognise 'real' talent. Once when I was pissed of with the company I wrote to my boss telling him that Paul' career would span three decades and we should get behind him. He replied that when punk/new wave ended he would be finished with him.
Is it true that Polydor wouldn't invest properly in The Jam?
When Going Underground got to number 1 they could have farted on a record and it still would have gone straight in at Number 1- they had such a strong fan base. Prior to this not many in the company saw the Jam as having longevity. I was pissed off when `When You're Young` didn't make the top 5. I wrote a strong memo to the old man (the MD of Polydor) saying `the company has fucked up, literally fucked up. Here is an artist that has longevity and we're not getting behind them`. It was more an emotional thing than anything else.
When I now look back on it - When You're Young did what it did. It wasn't going to be the record to break them into the top 5. But Polydor's perception of the Jam, at that time, was they could only sell X amounts of records, there's no point spending any more money promoting them.
The really key thing was press and promotion. I sat down with the promotions man at Polydor Tony Bramwell, who was mates with the MD Tony, was a well-liked guy who worked with the Beatles. But he was totally wrong for The Jam.
It reached the point where the band and Tony had nothing in common. Also the company just could not see the band beyond being a top twenty band. So I brought in Clive Banks (I'd worked with him previously.) I played him `Eton Rifles`; at this time no one in the record company had heard it. I liked his (positive) attitude. He had a three-week strategy on getting the single on to Radio 1's 'A' play list, and he did it. It made the difference. What was important was that they broke through to the top 5. Now the company had to start taking them seriously.
I read that Paul was under pressure while he was recording Sound Affects and there was talk of bringing Messrs. Godley & Crème in to write some songs with him!
No, No, No!
I just wanted to put that myth to rest!
No it wasn't totally a myth. Paul came in to see me half way through recording Sound Affects saying `Look I'm not going to be able to finish the album and it will have to come out next year. I said OK fine - but the fact was that they had a UK tour booked and all the promotion in place for an album release. The delay in releasing the album cased me no end of problems.
I was called up to see the 'old man', who said in all good intention, `How about getting Godley and Creme to write 4 or 5 tracks for The Jam? ` I was lost for words. I couldn't really take the suggestion seriously. The MD was only trying to help, he had just signed Godley & Creme and - don't get me wrong, they're great guys- but not right for writing for The Jam.
Did Paul know about this at the time?
I told him about it later, not at the time. After he'd successfully written the other half of the album.
I heard from a very reliable source close to The Jam, that Paul Weller wanted to split up the band after Going Underground. Truth or Myth?
No. Not then. There was talk at some point of bringing Glen Matlock in for the last tour when Bruce threatened to quit, which I thought at the time could be quite interesting, coz he's a shit hot bass player. I heard a demo of the band he had with Danny Kustow (Tom Robinson Band) and he was very talented. I always thought it was some time after 'Sound Affects' that Paul started to think about splitting up The Jam.
What do you think of the `Fire and Skill` Jam tribute album?
I haven't heard it all. Simon (Halfon) played some rough mixes when I was producing the box set. What I've heard I've liked. Tribute albums are normally shit because they're done in weird ways, but if you do it cover it right - you can't fuck up a good song.
When Paul Weller plays live, do you think he should play just one Jam number?
No. (Emphatically) Why should he? I know what you're saying - but the problem is I can't think of any other artist where people harangue them so much about the past. Any creative artist wants to move on. If you're a current artist you want to show them what you're doing now not what you did twenty years ago.
In the early days of The Paul Weller Movement he did!
Yeah but he didn't have such a wealth of new material then, now he doesn't need to although he stills plays 'Tales of the Riverbank' in his acoustic set. The thing about most Jam songs is that they're all from a young man's point of view. He could update some of the old songs for the crowd, but it's Paul decision, and when he makes a decision he sticks to it. Perhaps when he is in his 50's he will revisit The Jam's back catalogue. What a gig that will be.
Where there are any decisions he made you didn't agree with?
Yeah towards the end when he decided he was going to perform without the guitar. I mean he looked like a prat when he dropped his guitar. After all, It's a part of him.
Whats you're favourite Jam songs?
(laughs) It's Too Bad & That's Entertainment. When I did the box set I actually found out there were three different versions of the demo of Entertainment. The first take was one was just him and the guitar, the other two had a rhythm sections over dubbed. I actually think the solo version is the best. If you ask me this question tomorrow it will probably be different as he wrote so many great tunes.
How do you react of accusations of the Jam being plagiarists?
There's nothing wrong in that. If you take someone else's basic idea and add some of your own ideas, you're creating a new thing. Everybody does this, classical composers and, even. The Beatles with 'Back In The USSR', which Chuck Berry had released previously as 'Back In The USA' If you nick a melody then that's the bad news but I don't recall Paul ever doing this.
It's like The Stones used to always get accused of it. Purists used to say they'd ripped off Arthur Alexander, and other great r'n'b artists. There's nothing wholly original. Well I suppose there is but you don't want to hear it - someone wailing and banging on a dustbin. All art form's borrow from the past. Oasis has three generations of popular music to lift ideas from.
One thing that a mate of mine said to me, if you compare Motown to the Beatles in the early 60s - Motown wins hands down. Motown was more advanced musically. Smokey Robinson was one the greatest songwriters to come out of America this century. What were the Beatles doing then? Please Please Me Oh Yeah? I'm not knocking it. But for me Smokey and Motown were knocking out far superior shit in the sixties.
When you were doing A&R in the late 70s/early 80s did you sign any dance acts?
No I have to put my hands up and say - I'm no good with dance acts. I get the cross over hits, but that's it. But I have always personally enjoyed clubbing and the dance music scene.
Did you ever hear of an unreleased Jam song called `I want to paint`?
I never have heard this tune and I am not sure that it exists. Paul's a very prolific writer - and anything that's not up to standard he's liable to bin it, while other writers might hold onto it. That particular song title came out of an interview he did, when he was talking about the period between Modern World and All Mod Cons, although it would not surprise me if he has a copy hidden away in his personal archives.
There was never a third album that never got released, that's a myth. There were a few demos around -mostly Bruce's songs and a couple that eventually found their way on to 'All Mod Cons'. That's when I first started working with The Jam and at first it seemed like I stepped into a cauldron.
Chris Parry had fallen out with them, by telling them the album was shit. That was basically the end of their working relationship. The company wanted Martin Rushent to produce The Jam. Polydor also wanted to get rid of John as their manager at this point, saying he's not professional enough.
The Jam were a straight talking no bullshit band so they didn't need a bullshit manager!
Exactly - they didn't need any publicity stunts or media manipulations. For me it was good coz I was left alone to do the job, it gave me a lot of opportunity to get involved. I could see why the company wanted to make the changes. They weren't selling anything in America, not that they were ever going to sell in America. So they thought - change the producer change the manager. But if this had happened it would have ended the Jam, because the Jam was the Jam. Once you start tinkering with something you ruin it. If it isn't fucked you don't need to fix it.
Do you think if the Jam had stayed together they would have conquered America?
No they still would never have done it. Their music was just too alien to mainstream American audiences. It was only ever going to be a cult following for them over there.
Did you notice a change in Paul when he was deciding to end The Jam. The story goes that Paul would stay in, read a lot, work on tracks, getting them right - and Bruce and Rick would go out on the piss?
It wasn't quite like that. But Paul had his own life, he had moved to London whilst Bruce & Rick still lived in Woking.
You stood in for Bruce on the Bitterest Pill video. Is that right?
Oh yes that's right. Bruce quite understandably got pissed off waiting around. I wasn't a happy bunny either. It was 4 in the morning - the director was pissing about disappearing off somewhere, I can only speculate what he as doing! I said to the crew `If he's not back by a specific time, you set it up and I'll direct it. ` Everyone just had enough we had been at it for 18 hours straight.
When The Jam split up what did you think. It was obvious Paul was going to go on do things, but what about Bruce and Rick what did you think was going to happen to them?
I tried to sign them up to Polydor. Offer them a one album deal - give them a shot, but Polydor were not interested in signing them at all, even for one album. The thing about Bruce and Rick is they were the ideal rhythm section for the Jam.
Steve White is a great drummer but wouldn't have been any good in The Jam. Rick is a rock (solid) drummer and that's that. I remember him saying to me in Polydor's studio around 1980, that, `I don't want The Jam to be like The Stones & The Who - old men trying to sing young men's music' All music that starts off youth-oriented has to move on and develop.
I could not really handle it if they re-formed. I could see them doing it maybe for a Live Aid - or a one off special gig. But, you can't relive your youth. I mean who wants to be 18 again. I'd like to be 18 again and know what I know now, but it doesn't work that way.
Life is a drink and you'll get drunk when you're young
They let you think you're king but you're really a pawn. Those lyrics are so true - no matter how much money you got, your future is in always narrowed to parameters. Money doesn't buy love - you can't buy the things that are really important - you can't buy friendship
No you can't. You can't buy real people.
Why the apron on Going Underground on Top of the Pops?
I've no idea. One of his ever changing moods, but the BBC wouldn't let him wear it with the Heinz logo visible, so he turned it round. Paul was not as temperamental as some artists I could name. You find artist with the least amount of talent is the more likely to give you grief. In all honesty I never had a hard time from Paul. Maybe two or three times during our relationship he wanted to make changes, which isn't very many considering how long our association was. He never had tantrums or went on a power trip, he always asked. Always said can we change this? When in reality he could have demanded. He can be a moody person. All artist, writers and producers have huge egos. That's part of the reason they're successful.
Does he take positive criticism well?
Yeah he can handle it. I remember when he came in and played me the demo of Absolute Beginners. It was a load of great ideas that weren't really gelling - `you gotta work on it` I said. He put it in the bin saying `It's fucking shit. ` All I said was `It's only a demo - you can't judge it - you've got to see it through. `It wasn't a great song - there were some good ideas - another producer might have got something more out of it, who knows. I seem to remember they only ever played Beginners live once, ever.
Thanks for your time Dennis… November 1999