To celebrate our deluxe reissue of the first Bronco Bullfrog album, we asked band members Andy Morten and Louis Wiggett some questions about the band’s origins and the recording of Bronco Bullfrog.
Bronco Bullfrog: Andy, Louis and Mike
We really wish that with this new reissue, Bronco Bullfrog will be finally rated as one of the best 90s pop albums, to file next to Kontiki by Cotton Mather, Teenage Symphonies to God by Velvet Crush or Teenage Fanclub’s Songs From Northern Britain.
Here’s Andy and Louis:
– Back in 1996, when Guerssen was a one-man operation, Antoni (label owner) released a single by Vibraphone (the second 45 on the label!), a band that featured both you and Louis.
What do you remember from that time?
Andy: Vibraphone was great fun. It began as a covers band. Louis phoned me up one day and said, “We’ve got a gig on Saturday night and we’ve kicked our drummer out. Can you do it?” He read out all the songs they were doing – really good ’60s stuff by The Yardbirds, Shadows Of Knight, Terry Reid, Tomorrow – and I said yes. I’d never even met Chris Jordan (singer) or Paul Gasson (bass player) before! We played a few shows, including some in Austria, Germany and Spain. After a show in Lleida in 1991 (?), we were involved in a car accident. Louis and I had to recover in hospital somewhere near Barcelona for a few weeks. Paul the bass player left after that, and Jamie Tarrant joined. Then Louis and Chris started writing songs and the “vibe” of the group changed. I’d left the band by the time they recorded the single – Bill Darlington played on that. Bronco Bullfrog started coming together at the same time.
Louis: Yes, it was great fun. I remember recording the single in a small demo studio out in the wilds of East Sussex in a “more effort than it’s worth” scenario – it wasn’t easy. The band was pretty much on its last legs at that point, and I have a memory of Chris the singer playing drums on at least one of those sides (‘I Can Fly’, perhaps?). I personally wasn’t in a very good place at that time, wasn’t really playing guitar as well as I had been in the early days of the band and was looking around for something else. It’s no wonder we split not long after that single. The one regret is that we didn’t record an album when we had our chops, that would’ve been something. With titles such as ‘Orgy Wheel’ and ‘Riding On My Motorbike’, what’s not to love?
Vibraphone with Andy and Louis playing in Lleida, Guerssen’s hometown
– The first Bronco Bullfrog album was originally released on CD in 1998. And then, a couple of years later, Spanish label Mushroom Pillow put out a vinyl version but including just a selection of the songs. For many people, that was their first introduction to Bronco Bullfrog. So, I wonder if you originally conceived the album as a double LP set?
Andy: I don’t think we ever thought we were making an album – we were just writing and recording songs at a demo studio in Leicester during ’96 and ’97. We’d save our money and when we had £150 we’d go in and do three songs in two days. I think the story goes that Twist Records contacted Louis and asked if Vibraphone could do an album for them. They’d pretty much split up by then, but we’d started Bronco Bullfrog, so he told Twist he had a new band and sent them the eight or nine songs we’d recorded. They paid for us to do a few more and that became the first album. Very few labels were releasing vinyl in ’98, and of course we had no idea that one day the album would be released on that format. It’s too big for one album, so when we signed to Mushroom Pillow in 2001, they cherry-picked the songs they liked best, mixed them all up and put out a 10-track slimline version.
Louis: The first album was never intended, we were simply recording demos of Andy’s songs and having a lot of fun making music. It was actually a really good time for me, I got to act out my Sal Paradise fantasies by hitch-hiking up and down the country to rehearse (I didn’t drive at the time and paying for travel wasn’t an option), and the borrowed bass was a ’68 Gibson EB-2. Oh, how I loved playing that bass, and it took the edge off being relegated from guitar. In all honesty, I’d already done a stint with The Morticians on bass, and I was becoming more and more dissatisfied with my guitar playing.
– Not only the band’s name is taken from the 1970 British cult film of the same name but also some of the songs like ‘Del Quant’ are inspired by the movie. How did you first discover it?
Andy: I don’t remember exactly how that happened. Someone was sharing a VHS copy of the film they’d taped off (British TV station) Channel 4 and we became obsessed with it. It’s an amazing film, like a low-budget experimental Mike Leigh film with all these kids kicking around East London in 1969. We used dialogue from the film in our everyday lives, and when we needed a name for the band it was a no-brainer. Two songs on the album came directly from the film: Del Quant is the main protagonist and Irene is his girlfriend. Bronco is the wayward suedehead who they follow to try and escape their grim situation. Angel Lane is a street in Stratford, where much of the film was made.
Louis: I’d never heard of it, but Johnny Gorilla (Morticians) had it on VHS and the tape did the rounds (as they did back then). It’s a bonkers feature which has no professional actors, barely a script, and seems to be held together with faith, wit and determination (and an incredible soundtrack from the late ’60s English band Audience). I recently walked down Angel Lane, and the cafe in the film is now a Thai cafe with very good reviews.
– Looking back, which are your favourite tracks from the album? I’ve always been impressed by ‘Poor Mrs Witherspoon’ and that proto-metal / proggy part on the middle!
Andy: Ha ha! Yes, our love of Vertigo/Dawn/Nova UK post-psych bands definitely fed into that one – sort of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ by way of Titus Groan and May Blitz!
That’s what was so great about Bronco Bullfrog in the early days, for me at least: liberation. We’d previously been in “a mod band” or “a garage band” or “a psych band”. It was very limiting and we couldn’t get gigs or acceptance outside of those scenes. We were hellbent on demonstrating the influences of all the other music we loved and writing songs about our lives and what was happening to us.
We listened to all sorts of stuff and it seeped into the songwriting. I remember us discovering – individually and collectively – The Association, Raspberries, Poco, The Band and Grateful Dead around this time. Plus, there were some amazing powerpop records coming out of America by Cotton Mather, The Shazam, Jason Falkner and Wondermints. I got really into The Olivia Tremor Control and Apples In Stereo. Louis was laying prog and heavy rock stuff like Sir Lord Baltimore on us. Plus, we were still going out every Saturday and buying our beloved ’60s psych and pop albums… for a fiver! Oh, and lots of Bee Gees.
I’ve got lots of favourites on that album, it’s pretty strong – that initial rush of songwriting and playing together was incredibly positive and productive.
‘Paper Mask’ and ‘Greenacre Hill’ are the songs I’m most proud of; musically, lyrically and in terms of our performances. They’re from the heart, and it shows. ‘Together’ was the first song we ever played in the rehearsal room and kind of sums up everything we were about at the time: our lives and relationships with each other and the world. The country-rock influence came out on ‘Be My Friend’ and ‘Home To You’. We gave the latter away for a Bucketfull Of Brains compilation, but it was always intended as part of the album. That’s why we’ve reinstated it for the Guerssen edition. ‘Lazy Grey Afternoon’ was a leftover from me and Mike’s previous band The Nerve that became this eight-minute psych-out when the Broncos got hold of it. And that recording of ‘History’ is the first take. I only shared the demo of it a couple of weeks before we recorded it. Youthful spontaneity!
Louis: Yes, ‘Poor Mrs Witherspoon’, with elements of the second Blossom Toes album in essence, encapsulated a lot of the stuff we were turning ourselves onto around that time, veering from pop to hard rock with a bunch of harmonies and a woeful tale to tell. It’s more of a Midlands thing I’m sure: The Dog That Bit People, the first Trapeze album.
The songs were mainly Andy’s, with a few ideas, lines, riffs etc from Mike and I. We did write the occasional song, but the heavy hitters were Andy’s. I’ve always loved ‘Together’ – it has so many bits and as a listener you can never tell which way it’s going to turn. Plus, it’s an adorable pop song with great harmonies.
I remember the first time I heard Andy’s demo of ‘Greenacre Hill’. I was still living in St Leonards-on-Sea, living a very undisciplined and somewhat carefree existence, so it was not uncommon to stay in bed listening to music before getting up. Anyhow, on the day a postman arrived with Andy’s tape, so I stuck it on before getting out of my crib, and oh man, that was one of those moments I recall thinking, “How is this even possible, how does Andy write these incredible songs?” It really set me off, because it’s a song about the passing of time, is rooted in the unavoidable direction of travel, is about not having the means to go back – it’s heavy. At the time of the album our proximity to those childhood memories was obviously closer, yet nowadays I feel more like the old guy who’s incapable of helping some kid whose ball’s stuck up a tree for fear of putting his back out (again). It’s a goose-bump inducing marvel that one.
‘Del Quant’ was, I think, mine and Andy’s first collaboration. I’d had this idea, and demoed the tune, then sent it to Andy with the line “Del Quant, what do you want?” Andy came up with a magical lyrical reimagining of the film. It’s a beauty, particularly that middle-eight where the vibe softens and stops being so much about the mundanities, the day-to-day struggles etc and we get this fragile and fleeting glimpse of those two people finding happiness in each other – before that rowdy twin-lead guitar break disturbs their tranquility. But that’s often the way. “And your motorbike went under a van,” ahh.
NOTE: Bronco Bullfrog will be followed by LP / Digital reissues of the complete Bronco Bullfrog studio albums…stay tuned!
Pre-order our LP reissue of “Bronco Bullfrog” here: