John Wisniewski: What was the first band that you were in, Chris?
Chris Bostock: I formed my first live band, the Stingrays, in Bristol, UK when I was 17. We started out as a three-piece playing a mixture of original rockabilly and rhythm & blues and performing at most of the local venues, opening for visiting groups such as U2 and the Undertones, while also headlining our own shows.
We released a single called “Countdown” plus another that appeared on the Bristol compilation album from 1978 called Avon Calling. I could play keyboards, guitar and bass to a reasonable standard by that time but ended up playing bass in the band as our other guitarist couldn’t! I also sang and had a special interest in harmony vocals and arrangements.
John Wisniewski: Any favorite bands?
Chris Bostock: Being much younger than my two brothers, I grew up in the 60s hearing their music, which had a huge influence on me. My earliest memory of liking bands was at the age of three, hearing the Beatles’ “Roll over Beethoven” sung by George Harrison, and their next song that really grabbed me was “Taxman” – George Harrison again! I later went on to meet George and spent a late night jamming with him in Los Angeles while working on the Dave Stewart & the Spiritual Cowboys’ first album, so that was an amazing experience for me.
But back in the ’60s, I also got to hear a lot of the Rolling Stones and The Who and when friends came round for parties, they would all dance to Motown hits, so this is where I became enlightened by James Jamerson’s astounding bass playing. I later grew up with the glam acts of the early ’70s such as David Bowie and Roxy Music and funk acts like James Brown and early Kool & the Gang. Later it was The Clash, The Police, The Specials and The Jam.
John Wisniewski: Could you tell us about being in those early bands, The X-Certs and The Stingrays?
Chris Bostock: In 1976, the first wave of punk bands started up in Bristol and this transformed the whole music scene. New record labels and fanzines were in abundance and live acts played everywhere. It was the perfect setting for launching a new act.
Our very first gig as the Stingrays was at the end of 1977 in the function room of The Bear public house in Hotwells, near the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The next was at my former youth club, St Albans, followed by the Crown Cellar Bar and Bristol University. We would play wherever we could, usually organising the gigs ourselves and choosing our support acts or being the opening act for the prominent visiting acts that played at the Locarno Ballroom.
After a year or so, I was poached to play in the X-Certs, who were influenced by the Clash and reggae music and the gigging continued while we released our single “Together” plus another two tracks on The Bristol Recorder 2, a compilation album/magazine of Bristol acts.
John Wisniewski: When did you join The Subway Sect?
Chris Bostock: It was the end of 1980. I was playing in Bristol with my second band the X-Certs – we had supported The Clash and had played London a couple of times – but we were running out of places to play locally. A local singer/guitarist, Johnny Britton, had been signed by the Clash’s manager, Bernard Rhodes – who had also managed the Specials and Dexys Midnight Runners – and Bernard recruited me and the key members of three other groups – Sean McLusky, Rob Marche and DC Collard – to form a new act. All of our own local groups then disbanded as a result, to the dismay of the Bristol music scene!
We all moved to London and Johnny soon fell into modelling, so Bernard arranged for Vic Godard to replace him. Vic’s first group called Subway Sect had already made a mark on the London punk scene but had disbanded. With Vic, a new Subway Sect was formed with a completely different sound for the new era, influenced by ’40s style crooner music which was referred to as ‘Cool Bop and Swing’. We launched the band through our own very popular weekly nightclub in London’s Soho called Club Left, where, as the house band, we also invited different singers to perform, such as Bananarama, who’s first ever gig was with us. Subway Sect also embarked on live shows and extensive touring of the UK with acts such as The Pretenders, John Cale, and Dexy’s spin-off band The Bureau with our album, Songs for Sale, on major label London Records.
John Wisniewski: Could you tell us about The JoBoxers? How did they form?
Chris Bostock: Our incarnation of Subway Sect lasted until the autumn of ’82, when Vic Godard got married and took a break from music. By this time, we were also writing songs with New York vocalist and front man Dig Wayne from Buzz and the Flyers, who stepped in to replace Vic. With a new front man, we renamed the band the JoBoxers and together set about writing a collection of dynamic songs in a set that fused elements of northern soul, rockabilly, New York disco and funk.
JoBoxers signed to RCA Records and commenced a big UK tour with Madness, achieving chart success in the UK with three big hit singles and a hit album Like Gangbusters, plus a Top 40 hit in the US, “Just Got Lucky”, that I co-wrote, that later featured in the movies: The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Just My Luck.
Another hit I co-wrote was “Johnny Friendly” which is based on the Marlon Brando movie On the Waterfront with a video featuring the British heavyweight boxing champion Frank Bruno. Our first single in the UK was Boxerbeat, which reached No.3 in the national charts.
The JoBoxers toured the US and Canada for six weeks plus the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
John Wisniewski: When did you meet Dave Stewart, Chris?
Chris Bostock: Dave and I were both signed to RCA Record; Dave with the Eurythmics and me with the JoBoxers, so we met there a few times and performed at the same concerts. Then, in 1989, I was playing in a brand new group called The Flame with Roxy Music’s Paul Thompson, and we were signed to Dave’s own label Anxious Records. This led to us opening for the Beach Boys and the Eurythmics at Wembley Arena and the National Exhibition Centre, so I had a chance to get to know Dave and we got on really well.
Soon after this, the Eurythmics came to an end and Dave invited me to form The Spiritual Cowboys with him, so we flew out to his studio in Los Angeles and recorded the first of two albums that went Gold in France amid large-scale touring in Europe. One track “Party Town” featured in the movie Flatliners with Kiefer Sutherland. We toured extensively in Europe doing TV, concerts and festivals for about two years.
Working with Dave Stewart is a remarkable experience as he is such a talented writer and musician who has collaborated with some of the world’s biggest names in music and many of these luminaries visited the studio in LA for social visits while we were recording.
John Wisniewski: Could you tell us about working with Style Council and Spear of Destiny, Chris?
Chris Bostock: After The Jam split up, Paul Weller formed The Style Council to incorporate a soul feel into his music and teamed up with Hammond organist Mick Talbot from The Bureau, who were the original Dexys Midnight Runners, but with a new singer.
With Subway Sect I had previously toured the UK with The Bureau and we’d all had some good laughs together on tour, where I had got to know Mick quite well.
JoBoxers had that soul feel that Paul was looking for and we were riding high in the national charts with “Just Got Lucky”, having appeared on the UK music show Top of the Pops numerous times.
Mick suggested getting me to play on the new Style Council tracks, so Paul called up, inviting me to his Solid Bond studio in Marble Arch to record for their debut album Café Bleu. It turned out that before Paul bought it, the studio had had an illustrious history of recordings with acts including Dusty Springfield, the Walker Brothers, The Who and ELO.
Paul wanted me to play a soulful walking bass style for “Here’s One That Got Away” so that was fairly straightforward and I laid down a track with a northern soul swing in the chorus and a walk in the verse.
Another of the tracks I worked on was a sultry, haunting ballad of “The Paris Match” with Tracey Thorn from Everything but the Girl on vocals. This was quite a departure from anything Paul had done before. Mick had seen me play double bass when making the Subway Sect album Songs for Sale, so they asked me to have a go at “The Paris Match”
Since Café Bleu was released I’ve lost count of the number of people I have heard say that this is their favourite Style Council track ever, without knowing I played on it! I have to feel honoured to have played on that album.
One day I had a call from my former JoBoxers producer Alan Shacklock, who had also produced Jeff Beck, Meatloaf and Roger Daltrey, inviting me to play on the new Spear of Destiny album he was producing, which would become The Price You Pay on Virgin Records. This turned into quite an extensive project.
Spear of Destiny, headed up by Kirk Brandon, had been playing to large audiences in large venues. To enable the recorded album to sound exactly like the tour that would follow, we developed and rehearsed the album tracks in a huge rehearsal space off London’s Caledonian Road over a two week period. This also had the benefit of keeping the band playing tightly from the outset and maintaining the momentum through the recording sessions.
The recording and mixing took place over the next few weeks, mostly at the former Townhouse Studios in Shepherd’s Bush and went very smoothly under Alan’s direction. We then went on the UK tour – which quickly sold out – to promote the album, culminating with a London show at the Hammersmith Odeon.
John Wisniewski: What are you working on currently, Chris?
Chris Bostock: Having reprised Club Left in 2014 with almost the original 1982 line-up of Subway Sect in a sell-out show at London’s 100 Club followed by another sell-out in 2016, the current Subway Sect line-up of me, Vic Godard and former members Sean McLusky from JoBoxers and Johnny Britton has continued. We have toured for two years and completed a new album, Moments like These, produced by Mick Jones of The Clash/Big Audio Dynamite, which is scheduled for release at the end of 2020. Additionally, the all-original JoBoxers are booked for a mini-tour of the UK in 2021.
Throughout my time in music, I have kept reconnecting with people I previously worked with or was influenced by as if by fate and now with the comebacks of Subway Sect and JoBoxers, it feels like I’ve come full circle!