Meet: Jonn Penny / Ned’s Atomic Dustbin interview ahead of Ingredients 30th anniversary dates

Formed in Sturbridge in 1987 and taking their name from an episode of the infamous radio comedy The Goon Show, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin remain one of the best loved and fanatically supported indie rock bands of the late 80s and early 90s. As it was, they had a slew of indie hits, a handful of which creeped into the top 40, and a top ten album with 1991’s God Fodder (follow up Are you Normal was a top twenty hit). Rocking a stake board look and with a never ending supply of T-Shirts (86 designs between 1987-1990). The Ned’s have announced a series of shows to celebrate 30 years since the release of Ingredients, including a couple of shows at home town Stourbridge Town Hall, and two at Dingwalls in London. Originally splitting up in 1995, the original members got back together in 2008, but haven’t played in Stourbridge since 1988 and the first time they have played Dingwalls, their first London headline and sell-out, since 1990. We covered the details, here

We caught up with singer John Penny to find out a little more about the dates, and the bands thoughts on the anniversary

BM: Weird times. How is everything with you

Thanks, we’re all good so far. Rat and I had an acoustic show scheduled for later this month which has obviously fallen by the wayside for now but otherwise the band had a quiet year planned. We’ve toured the past two years, so we thought we’d make ourselves scarce for a while… We were hesitant about announcing these dates at such a difficult time for everyone, but we just felt we wanted to try to wrestle back a bit of normality. It’s not a time when anyone really feels confident about making plans, but these irons had been in the fire for quite a while and it was coming to the point when really needed to get the dates confirmed to ensure they can go ahead.

So it’s 30 years since Ingredients – how do you view it now? Any favourite memories of recording the songs?

We recorded the record at a studio in Stourbridge – the place we’d done our very first rehearsals together and where we wrote a lot of our songs. It was a daunting experience because we were trying to get to grips with how we might represent ourselves on record. We had a certain rawness and energy about us at our gigs, but do you try your best to recreate that with your records or do you find the ‘studio sound’ that embraces recording as the different medium that it is? The recordings were pretty raw but the original mix sounded very ‘dry’ and we quickly realised that it wasn’t going to work trying to sound ‘live’, so we went to London and remixed it with Jessica Corcoran and the ‘studio’ sound of the band was born there…

We held out for a long time before releasing this record. We decided we needed to go out and play a lot of shows to win ourselves a record-buying audience before we released a record to give ourselves the best chance of releasing more records after it

On the eve of release we played Dingwalls where we did our first TV interview and we all still remember joking in the interview that we’d cleared some space in our lofts to house the unsold copies if the record failed to sell – we honestly didn’t know how it was going to pan out.

Grey Cell Green is my favourite song on the EP – that song has done so much for us. It won over lots of fans of other bands we supported early on and it broke us in the US. Oddly enough it’s a naïve stab at an environmental song and I reckon it’s more relevant now that ever.

Do you think it was an important release for the band – It was very early on it your recorded career? How do you feel listening back to it now?

It does sound a bit dated to me now, but then it was a moment in time – it was 1990 and every record is a snapshot of a time. The songs have a lovely naivety to them – we sound unfettered by anything and that’s a refreshing thing to hear even now! 

What was the creative process like? How did the tracks come about?

We wrote as a collaborative from day one – all five of us in a room together bouncing ideas around. Those ideas required all five of us to buy-in if they were to make muster. I used to come up with all the words on the spot – lots of pressure but I think that made all of us more creative. The opening song ‘Aim’ was relatively new and untried at shows, but it signified a shift in a more deliberate direction whereas the other songs were all tried and tested at the multitudinous shows we’d played.

So your going back to Stourbridge for these dates later in the year? And London as well?

Yes, the Stourbridge connection is obvious but also, we’ve failed to get ourselves back on stage in Stourbridge for such a long time – it just seems right to celebrate that first release, recorded just down the road from the venue, in Stourbridge itself.  6. How does it feel going back to play at your hometown after 30 years?

You going to get your families and mates all down to the shows? 

It’s going to be a little surreal, I guess. Last time we played here we were no big deal to anyone – now we’re looking to sell out two nights at the Town Hall! It’s not the Black Country way to have any self-importance, so I’ve got to admit, it does feel a bit like we’re showing off playing to lots of the people who were around in the very early days when we were rubbish – the people who never did and never will think of us as anything other than locals they used to drink with in the 90s! There’ll be an interesting mix I suppose of ‘locals’ and pilgrims from afar – that could be quite bizarre to see…

Our families will probably come along but the guest list is going to be an absolute nightmare!

Thinking back now what was it about Stourbridge that created so many iconic bands in such a relatively short space of time. What were the conditions that created that ‘perfect storm’.

Stourbridge was a pot boiler of creativity for decades before the ‘Stourbridge Scene’ was ever mooted. It was all centred, in my opinion, around a great art college that had a reputation nationally. Stourbridge was a bit of a haven for those creative types who wanted to express themselves without getting beaten up in the street or ridiculed for being different! There were a few pubs in the town where the like-minded artists, musicians, thespians etc would gather for safety in numbers and the outcome was almost inevitably a vibrant ‘scene’. The first band out was Pop Will Eat Itself and they got the focus of radio and media looking at lowly Stourbridge, then the rapid momentum of The Wonder Stuff’s rise just helped to ratify the myth, then we came along on the shirt-tails of both bands and, as you say, it was a perfect storm! 

Famous for having two basses, what did that bring to Neds musically that was different to other bands at the time?

The two basses allowed for more hooks essentially. Rhythm guitar in a ‘standard’ four-piece does offer some opportunity for hooks but Alex’s high-end bass style means he’s got a sonic space that isn’t often occupied, and his riffs somehow cut through much more easily than a rhythm guitar might do. So, we have plenty of hooks in the songs and when we play live the power in the bottom-end of our sound is quite a force – so that seems to enforce the tunes with extra impact.

Tell us what you’ve been up to since the original line up reformed?

We are a part-time band these days – we all have careers separate to the band and essentially, we only exist when there’s a show to play but this keeps us all very keen and makes those experiences extra-special.

Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, 2020

The dates announced are:

Friday 27th November – London Dingwalls
Saturday 28th November – London Dingwalls
Friday 4th December – Stourbridge Town Hall
Saturday 5th December – Stourbridge Town Hall

Thanks to Tim Morgan, for your help.

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