I will freely admit that for much of the nineties, besides the obvious greats of XTC, Robyn Hitchcock and Sensible, the fast majority of bands and artists I was well into were American. It seemed to these ears that the unending flow of quality, interesting melodic guitar music from over the pond easily trumped the fashion conscious brit pop/anthematic, rip off my older siblings record collection, bands that these green isles had to offer on the most part. Its an interesting phenomena in music that even though bands often create music totally independent of other contemporary music there can be something in the water of the time that means there are other bands also creating music of a similar ilk. From the outside it can seem like a movement though when delved into more closely it turns out to be a coincidence. As the decade approached its end one such movement sprang into life in Britain. Melodic gravitas progressive popsike of stunning beauty and grace made by bands like Super Furry Animals, Orange, Octopus, Supernaturals, Silverheel, Lilac Time and The Chrysanthemums was all a joy to behold. And the two I loved the most had to be Straw and the fabulous Derrero. Championed by both John Peel and Mark and Lard it seemed for a while, especially around the time of their radio hit Radar Intruder, that Ashley Cooke, Andy Fung, Dave Hirst and Mary Wycherley who made up the mighty Derrero came so damn close to breaking on through to a more widespread popularity.
Over three albums and three e.ps Derrero grew to be glorious with their gorgeous melodies, wonderful production and seductive harmonies, culminating in the superb swansong Comb The Breaks before drifting apart. They are a band I have never tired of and a few weeks ago I stumbled across Ashley Cooke’s home recording project of these last few years Pulco. Pulco’s half dozen or so albums are a R. Stevie Mooresque eclectic mixture of experimentation, poems, documented sounds and, thankfully for us, songs that show his considerable talents with melodies and words remain undaunted by the intervening years.
Theres a lot of good stuff to be investigated in Pulco. By pure serendipity it turns out that Derrero recent played a reunion show and with the plan to make all their many fine works and some much antisipated unreleased rarities available by the excellenceof Bandcamp to be heralded by a second more organised Derrero concert, now seems the time for Art Into Dust to celebrate all of this excellence. Ashley’s a fine fellow indeed and together we concocted to tell the story in words and pictures of the much loved Dererro once and for all. As ever I have elected to let Ashley tell you in his own words. So let us begin.
In Brighton with the original bass player
Ashley: Neither of my parents make music or play instruments but there was always interesting music in the house. I remember being drawn to records that they had by Buddy Holly, The Beatles, Geno Washington & Peddlers and the harmonies of song writers like The Everly Brothers & John Denver.
They also had comedy records by Peter Sellers and those weird covers albums with some bloke playing the Hammond Organ to demonstrate stereo. I was drawn to odd bits of music like that. I loved record sleeves as a kid (still do) and liked looking at the pictures on gatefold albums. Bonney M’s Oceans of fantasy was my favourite. It opens out twice so there are 4 sides to the picture. Classic times !!
My Dad bought a little tape player for loading games on to a home computer that we had, but I was more fascinated by the idea of recording myself and my guitar. It was really weird to hear my own voice for the first time. Eventually I learnt to use a second tape machine as a way of multi tracking recordings The final step in my conversion to a lifetime love of home recording came when I acquired my first 4 track. It changed my world forever.
I was taught to play the guitar in Primary school by a local musician. It got me out of maths for one hour a week but I just loved it and played all the time. I wrote bags of songs that were all crap but I cherished them and pretended to release my own albums and play gigs in the house. I played my first gig at Primary school and got paid a Mars bar! Later on I used to do proper gigs in Secondary school. I remember that we put a scratch band together to support Dr Phibes & The House Of Wax Equations in our sixth form. We were rubbish but I got my first taste of what a band can sound like through a full PA. I didn't really have a regular band before going off to art college in Falmouth. As well as playing in school though friends used to come over on the weekend and we would record hour after hour of Brian May inspired rock Jams. Those were that days! I remember building drums from ice cream tubs. Still have those tapes – very weird.
Dave, Andy, Mary and I met in Falmouth but we didn't form Derrero until after we graduated and left. This is the part of the band history that is most misinterpreted. Andy was in a band called Big Chief that had just lost their guitarist and bassist. I remember that Dave was driving me along Wood lane in this great gold Capri that he owned. Andy stopped us and mentioned about the band situation. Dave and I jumped at the chance to join. There was another member of the band called Rob who was a lot older than us and was kind of the band leader. We spent two years travelling all over Cornwall in a knackered camper van playing in pubs and clubs. Textbook apprenticeship I guess. Mary was Andy's girlfriend at the time and she sometimes sang in other Falmouth bands.
After we graduated from Falmouth Andy Mary and I moved to Brighton for a year and started Derrero . The first week there we sat in the front room of our flat and put our tunes on the table. The plan was to start getting gigs like crazy and get signed - like you do. The first ever Derrero gig was at the Free Butt pub in 1995. Dave had gone back to Kent to work for his parents and another college friend of ours, Stacey Harvey, played bass. Brighton was interesting at the time because it was full of ex Falmouth artists like Pete Fowler and Rob Ramsden. Jo Nery the actress was there. She has since gone on to be in Ideal with Johnny Vegas. The Brighton year was a lot of fun and we worked hard to get gigs. We played loads of shitty London pubs with noise limiters that cut the power off when ever you struck a snare drum.
One gig was in this pub in Basingstoke. The Landlord was ex military and a bit if an odd ball. We had only played about three songs when he told us to pack up and go home because we didn't sound like our demo tape ' where is the girl singer' he complained. We were pissed off because we had hired a van and travelled a long way so we asked the audience if they wanted us to continue and they were with us so we carried on. At the end of the night the landlord gave us the money and wondered if we wanted to book another gig!!! When Mary got a place on a Film & Animation degree course in Newport Gwent Andy wanted to go with her and I didn't want to break the band so I went along too. Stacey opted to stay in Brighton and our old pal Dave decided to re join our merry gang and that was how we ended up in Wales
After a disastrous Christmas playing some money making gigs in Cornwall we headed back to our new home in Newport. Our van died on the way and it took us eleven hours to make the four hour journey. To begin with the plan was to be playing regular gigs in South Wales within six months and be part of the scene which we did. We ran Derrero as a business for a while to get funding to buy another van. Building on the funding idea we also bagged another £200 from the Princes Trust and recorded a demo at Cardiff's Big Noise studio in early 1996.
Later in the year, Big Noise owner Greg Haver was at one of our Newport gigs to see Flyscreen who he was producing at the time. He was interested in starting a label and agreed to record more Derrero tunes. We were so well rehearsed in those days that we laid down the backings for seventeen songs in one day. It was rough and ready but that was the way we sounded at the time – all gung ho energy. We had never really recorded with this band either so it was all new territory. The vocals were put down after Xmas in early 1997 and all of a sudden we had an album.It must be noted for the record too that Le Pub owner Kieran put out the Dipstick/Tiny Shoes single for us at the same time. We used the Bignoise versions of these songs although producer Rich Jackson was supposed to do the session but was unavailable.Le Pub was our main haunt and was the last place that I played with the group in 2002. A lot of the songs on the first album dated back to the Brighton days and were quite old, this is the case with many bands first albums I guess. Dipstick was originally written in a country style version at half the speed! We played it as a 'Breeders version' in rehearsal one day for a laugh and Greg came bursting in wondering what the tune was!!
We had a lot of fun with the vocals on that album. Riddle & Bend had stuff sung down traffic cones and there was a lot of screaming. The album seemed to do quite well – I don't really recall much but our gigs certainly picked up once it came out
Greg’s business partner, Ceri worked for the Super Furry’s stage crew and his girlfriend worked for Ankst who managed them and Gorkys Zygotic Mynci etc so we were able to get support slots with them all. We Played in Coppers Field Cardiff with the Fall and a million dates in London. A stand out moment I guess had to be getting the first Peel session.
Small pocket was recorded quickly after the first album came out and was fresh with new songs. We took more time to record each song and produce things a bit more. It is still my favourite set of tunes. Super Furry Animals stored their gear at the studio and we were able to borrow bits and bobs for our sessions. I think that we were all taken a back by how much the band had grown musically in a year. It gained us a new level of respect too. With this in mind we cracked on and began recording the second album.
Radar Intruder was one of those songs that didn't feel like it would be much good until it was recorded and then we all knew it was good. We were moving forward doing what we dreamed off. Doing more Peel stuff on the back of that record was amazing. People started to respect what we were doing more.
Recording at Maida Vale was funny too as the Beeb was still quite old fashioned then. We got there early expecting to do a full days recording but once the tape op had loaded the machine at about 10 am we saw no one until the engineer arrived after lunch. With a fag in mouth he recorded us till about 5 then announced it was time for the pub before mixing. The whole thing wrapped up at about midnight.
In 1998 we did our longest string of gigs supporting Catatonia. The shows were all sold out. In fact 98 & 99 were busy years. We toured with Granddaddy, Sebadoh and Gorkys again. I also did a string of teaching workshops with valleys poet Patrick Jones. We had all moved over to Cardiff as well by this time so we spent a good of time in the studio practising and playing at being a ‘proper band’!
There can be a general sound that surrounds bands that live and work in the same city or area. I think that because a lot of the bands rehearsed in the same place in Cardiff then ideas possibly got passed through the walls!!
Granddaddy's first album opened up the door for raw room sounding drums on records but we were into Teenage Fanclub, Beck, Ween, Bonzo's, Big Star, Elliot Smith. Good harmonies and interesting production. Our Welsh contemporaries were also a strong influence on how to operate as a band. You learn a lot by working with bands that are more successful that you!
This and other live shots mostly Clwb Ifor Bach and the Barfly in Cardiff some where around 1999 to 2001
Andy and I wrote songs separately and then brought them to the band. Occasionally either one of us might suggest a tweak here and there but we respected what the other person brought in and keep them mostly intact.
Harmony was important cause we loved the Beach Boys and because we both wanted to be singing!!! It happened naturally but it was a bit of a trademark too. When it came to recording however everyone had an input into sounds and overdubs. Many a time Dave would shout his approval of a particular part from the sofa where he was on the play station!!!
The second album was quite frustrating for us because it took a long time for it to be released. The Big Noise studio building had been compulsory purchased and demolished by the WDA as part of Cardiff City centre's development programme and until they coughed up the compensation there was no budget to release the album. A lot of the songs on the album had been written around the time of Small Pocket Machine but were recorded at different times in different locations so I can appreciate where folk’s reading of the disjointed feel to the album comes from.By the time it did come out we already had another albums worth of new material ready that we were more interested in playing. Those tunes were only ever recorded on my 4 track and I have since lost the tapes!!!! There were some great songs there. I like to think that that material could have made an amazing third Bignoise album that had the label survived would have built on the achievements of Fixation and pushed the band into new territory but it was never meant to be. As fate would have it the whole WDA thing effectively killed off Bignoise and regrettably for everyone we parted company with Greg & Ceri.
Photo by Emma Ross
In 2000 Greg was asked to record the live sound for a film, Beautiful Mistake that Welsh director Marc Evans was making with John Cale. It became a bit of a job for the boys as I ended up playing in three bands. Was fun though. I didn't talk much to Cale because he wasn't actually on set that much!! The bands practiced his songs then he came along and sort of joined in!! Was a bit weird.
After the end of Bignoise we wondered how we could get another album out with all the new material that we had been stock piling. We had just recorded our third Peel session and felt excited about what we could do next on record but at the same time we also felt a little washed up. I guess we had realised that no one was gonna hand us success on a plate. We found ourselves in Maida Vale doing Peel again but yet we were unsigned!
Ankst suggested that we approach Melys to help us make an album. Melys had their own label and studio in North Wales. They were keen on the project and gave us twelve days to record it in. The experience was brilliant. We had this big master schedule of how to record the songs that would allow us to do a song a day. It was like a military exercise. Nothing was gonna get missed out. Gez Jones engineered it and provided production where it was needed. He was a massive support to us and helped to bring out the best in the music. Comb The Breaks is the truest representation of how we wanted to sound on record. We were also exploring new ideas with rhythm loops and keyboard sounds. We returned to studio Sylem one more time to add brass to the final track and remix a few things.
Photo by Emma Ross
Comb The Breaks was recorded in the summer of 2001 but before it was released the following year my son was born and I decided that it was time for me to leave. Sion, my brother in law played a few dates with the band but I effectively broke up the group. I still feel really bad about that 'cause we should have been out promoting Comb instead of splitting up but in another way things felt a little like they were coming to an end too and it was probably the right time to move on.
I started to be Pulco from then on and worked on music as and when I had time. Dave lived on in Cardiff for a few years working for Ankst Management before returning to Kent where he now has a studio and plays in Picturebox. Andy went to Cardiff Uni to do his MA in Fine Art and started a new band called Cymbient. His current project is called No Thee No Ess. Mary became a full time photographer and still lives in Cardiff.
During 1998 we spent some time recording at a studio up in the Brecon Beacons. I began to write a few songs there that I knew wouldn't work with the band so when we came home I borrowed a 4- track and started to record them just for something to do in between gigs. I was interested in exploring odd sounds and approaches that didn't sound like a band. That was where Pulco started from and it is still based on the same need today! I love the autonomy of home recording and I never worry about whether or not the tunes can be played live. Pulco music documents my life and all the stuff that goes on around me. I love to use loops, found sounds and odd instruments. I've said in the past that Pulco music is like a chunk of time wrapped around a good tune. I am currently working on my eighth album and am signed to a label in Nottingham called Folkwit Records.
Pulco was asked to play at Gwyl SWIGEN in Cardiff back in October.Andy Fung was also booked to play with his current band No Thee No Ess. We thought that it would be fun to play some Derrero songs and before long Dave said he would come and join in too. We had a total blast playing again.
Because we all live four or five hours away from each other we didn't get a chance to rehearse either. We got together an hour before we played and ran the songs through. It sounded great. Easier than it used to be some how. The plan now is to make all those Derrero albums and EP's available again online and put out some unreleased material too. We will do a full gig next year to launch this.
I can't see that Derrero will get back together fully though cause none of us have the time now and our lives have changed too much in the last ten years. However we are like brothers still and you never know!!
Derrero – Derrero A1 Dipstick A2 Tiny Shoes A3 Cockroach A4 Spine A5 Chevy Chase A6 Stupidword Song A7 Last One B1 Vice B2 Cheeky Chops B3 Bake Slab B4 Chaos B5 Riddle And Bend B6 Chunder Drum B7 Guppy
Derrero - small pocket machine ep 1: Stoned Rider, 2: Guppy, 3: Captain's Log, 4: Find Something New
Derrero - Fixation with Long Journeys (2000) 1. Floaters 2. Unstraightforwardtune 3. Radar Intruder 4. Lasso 5. Mono Man 6. Mudskipper 7. Zephyr 8. Pets / Coppice 9. Fixation with Long Journeys 10. Suntan 11. State Messages 12. Weightlessness 13. Out to Lunch 14. Step from the Basket
Derrero - radar intruder 1. Radar Intruder 2. Wiped the Floor 3. Anemones 4. Surk
Derrero - unstraightforwardtune 1. Unstraightforwardtune 2. Bazooka 3. Caboose 4. Ice 5. Parasol
Derrero: Comb The Breaks 1. Intro 2. Horizon 3. Old Grey Skies 4. Comb The Breaks 5. Ripple Of Strength 6. Lean On Me Comfort 7. Damn I'm Gonna Tear It Up 8. All Time Roy 9. Sound At 10. The Rate It Fades 11. Zero Return 12. Dust Brings Depth 13. Sandbar 14. Telescopic Sights
A list of their PEEL SESSIONS
Maida Vale 05/01/1999
Out To Lunch
Maida Vale 17/11/1999
Fixation With Long Journeys
Clwb, Cardiff 25/10/2000
Sound At The Rate It Fades
Vine In Mind
Out To Lunch
Maida Vale 21/02/2001
Sound At The Rate It Fades
Dusk Brings Depth
Lean On Me Comfort
Old Grey Skies
pulco Sketchbook season promo notes
Making home recordings on cheap tape players and 4–Tracks since his youth, Ash Cooke aka Pulco has a love of all things lo-fi.
Initially making his mark in Welsh group Derrero, Ash has continued to quietly release albums under the Pulco banner for the best part of ten years in amongst the chaos and busyness of his regular life.
During his time in Derrero the band released 3 critically acclaimed albums and toured with the likes of Super Furry Animals, Catatonia, Sebadoh and Granddaddy as well as collaborating on the film ‘Beautiful Mistake’ with John Cale. The band also recorded 3 sessions for the legendary John Peel.
In recent years Ash has been content to shun the big stages for the comfort of his wardrobe studio only venturing out to play live when there’s something new to say. Assembling musical bits and pieces together using a hand held recorder and Dictaphone, Pulco songs feature cheap keyboards, toy instruments, iPhone apps and just about anything else that Ash can lay his hands on to add something interesting into the mix. Poems, field recordings and interruptions by the kids are common place. It is music for music’s sake with no pomp or ceremony!
Pulco music has been described as left-field folk with a sketchbook feel, collecting thoughts and random events that have the child-like innocence of someone exploring the world with fresh eyes.
"Ashley Cooke is a rarity. In years to come, experts in eclectic cultural references will mention the name Pulco with great fondness" - Plastik Magazine
Sketchbook Season is a free to download EP and released by Folkwit Records in November 2011.
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