'80s - The Outfield (2006)
'Preparing To Relive Those Diamond Days'
Originally from the east end of London, the three founding members, John Spinks, Tony Lewis and Alan Jackman began recording and playing together as "The Baseball Boys" in the early 80's. They played a series of shows around London and recorded a couple of early demos, which eventually caught the ear of management who put them in touch with Columbia Records in the U.S. Shortly thereafter, they were signed as a CBS/Columbia Records recording artist and began polishing up the songs which would become their debut album, "Play Deep" released in 1985.
In 1986, they began recording the "Play Deep" follow-up album, titled "Bangin'". This album, released in 1987, was no disappointment to fans and cranked out more hit singles. The band's third album, "Voices of Babylon" for CBS/Columbia, was released in 1988. After the recording of this album, original drummer, Alan Jackman, made the decision to leave the band before the supporting tour began. The band quickly hired Paul Reed to fill in on the drums for the "Voices" tour. That summer, The Outfield played a series of very successful shows that opened for Mike and The Mechanics.
With the dawn of the early 90's, John Spinks and Tony Lewis set out to record their fourth album, on a new label, MCA. Officially now a duo, the band began experimenting more with electronic drums and a session drummer named, Simon Dawson. The album titled "Diamond Days" (East London slang for: The Best of Times) was released in 1990 and produced one of their biggest hits, the ballad "For You". Because of the war, the band were unable to tour in support of this album. Choosing rather to go back and begin work on their fifth album and the second for MCA called "Rockeye". This album was much more a throw back to the band's earlier sound and featured more of an energetic "live drum" sound from Simon Dawson who was becoming more involved in the sound of the band.
As music changed in the mid 90's and as the band saw classic, well written pop/rock become overthrown by the raw gritty grunge sound of band's like Nirvana, and Pearl Jam, it soon became clear to them that they would need to take a few steps back. In 1998 they released a self produced CD, for the fan club and tour only, that was appropriately titled "It Ain't Over". The band toured the states in the fall of 1998 and sold out nearly 80% of the club dates and theatres that they played. Having received a massive response from "It Ain't Over" and having sold out every last copy of it, they decided to look into major distribution.
Soon thereafter, in 1999, they released "Extra Innings," a compilation of several songs they wrote during the '90s, and also four new songs written during 1998. The early 2000s saw the band issue two live collections, issued via their official website: "Live in Brazil" and "The Outfield: Live." In March 2006, the band re-released the until then fan club only "Any Time Now," as a whole new studio album.
Chatting recently with John Spinks, I first wondered how back in the day three young boys from the East End of London formed a band and came up with such an American-sounding name as 'The Baseball Boys’?! ”For free studio time, I used to work there and help out there. The guy that gave me the studio time had contacts within the industry. So, one day he asked me to submit a cassette to one of the companies that he was dealing with. And, for want of a better name, I never had one! So, the night before I put the cassette in the post, I watched a film called ‘The Warriors.’ There was a street gang in it with baseball bats and white make-up on and it was very reminiscent of ‘Clockwork Orange’ … and I just thought to myself that it wasn’t a bad little image to have. And so I came up with The Baseball Boys on the back of it.”
But then The Baseball Boys didn’t last too long ”The Baseball Boys was basically around for two years, gigging through most of the obvious pubs and clubs in England that would have rock music. We were actually on the last Grand Slam tour with Phil Lynott [Thin Lizzy] before he died. We did about four or five shows with him. And then our management in America, although our manager was based in London, spoke to the record company and liked the name The Baseball Boys but didn’t like the fact it was their national sport. So, they agreed that they liked the sporty-theme that we had going, but suggested that as the sport had three people in the outfield could we consider that as a name? So we just agreed as we weren’t baseball knowledgeable at that point. And then came the logo which is obviously the baseball triangle and such.”
What was it like for you to have such hits – including ‘Your Love’ – be so big so quick off the bat? ”Basically, as we had access to a studio we had made some great demos. So when it came to making this record we’d been playing these songs for almost a year. We couldn’t get a deal in England and so obviously the guy who was working for us got in touch with an American record company. So he said as there was a lot of songs to choose from, could I just choose about three songs that I like. And ‘Your Love’ wasn’t one of the three that we submitted to the record company. But when we made the record it just seemed to have a life of it’s own.”
”But, again we didn’t think that it would be the big record. We thought that ‘All The Love In The World’ would be the biggest song we’d have on the record. We did the first one ‘Say It Isn’t So’ and then went on tour for about five months. We got a reaction from ‘Say It Isn’t So’ from the touring and then just before we left to come back to England ‘Say It Isn’t So’ had gone to #1 on the CHR charts in Dallas at The Eagle. So, we got back to England, they put out ‘Your Love’ as what they thought would be an intermediate song before we went back to America with the next single – which was supposed to be ‘All The Love In The World’ – and because of the success of ‘Your Love’ everybody had picked up on it. So, before we knew it we were going back two months early to promote the song. It was just flying away at that point.”
And just who IS ‘Josie’?! ”I don’t know. Just an imaginary character, I think! To be honest, the guy who owned the studio sent me out to see a few publishers before we got signed as The Outfield. And in doing so I realized that people were picking up on certain elements within the songs. And the guy said, ‘What you need is an out and out hit record style.’ So, I went back and did ‘All The Love In The World,’ ‘Your Love,' ’Talk To Me’ and ‘Say It Isn’t So’ within a three month period. But what I did try and do was focus in on things that perhaps people might perceive as being a story line. And when we got to doing the Josie line it just seemed to fit the bill on the day, you know. It wasn’t a particular Josie in the world at that point, trust me. I married a Judy, but Judy and Josie just don’t sing the same way, do they,” he laughs.
It seems from your album release schedule that you have barely taken time off between albums – having stayed involved in the business one way or another. Is it in your blood so deep now that no other occupation could ever be considered? ”Yeah, that’s right. Even today before this interview I’ve just come from the studio where I’ve been working on music all day long. So it’s not like I’m ever gonna get over it, you know.”
Will The Outfield record new music again soon? ”Tony and I, we’ve got a pledge that we started this together and we’ll finish it together. Invariably I write all the time. Sometimes they’re not actual finished songs, but more than often I’ll always write thinking how an Outfield song would sound like using it.”
Could there be a new album and tour soon though? "I think that depends … well, I was seriously ill last year so obviously, at this moment in time we aren’t able to tour because of my condition. But as soon as I get an OK from my doctor at some point we’ll be off. So, in the meantime I’m just gonna keep on writing because if we do put a record together there’ll be so many choices to choose from we’ll have a wider spectrum. Over the course of 20 or 25 years we did try and move away from what people wanted. If you go to Voices Of Babylon  and songs like 'Magic Seed’ on the Diamond Days  record, there was still an intensity on them. It was an underlying intensity to the music. But if you go on tour they don’t wanna hear the new tracks they wanna hear the old ones. So you’ve always got that dilemma: do you just keep knocking out songs that people are gonna recognize as it’s your sound or do you try and be contemporary to a certain degree and move forward. And we’ve always tried to do that on every album.”
The last Outfield CD Any Time Now was just re-released this year, but what can you tell me about it? ”Yeah, the second version of it came out this year. We've had it out on our web site, like most bands now do for about a year and a half.”
Due to your health situation, were you included on the four new tracks that were added to this new edition of the album? ”Oh yeah … I’m the one with the studio,” he says laughing. ”Basically, I eat, sleep and drink this stuff. They obviously picked up on the fact that people were buying the record and they asked us if we would like to release it officially. So, we agreed and then they asked if they could have some updates, something different on there. So, I wrote four songs and we put them on to give the people some choice.”
Being that you were recently taken very ill and had to undergo major surgery due to a rare liver cancer, I’m wondering if this was an ailment that you had known existed within you for a while or something that came at you out of the blue one day? ”To be honest we took a year off because we’d been touring for six years non-stop to write some stuff. During that year I’d been feeling kind of unwell and then it got to last January / February and people were asking if we were going to tour that year. And I just didn’t feel very well. So, I went to the doctor and they gave me an Ultrasound and couldn’t find anything wrong with me. They just thought I had a stomach infection or an ulcer and then three months later – and my blood is still all over the shop – I went to the doctors again and this time they said there was a shadow on my liver. That was on a Wednesday and on the Friday I had it confirmed with a CT scan and on the Saturday I collapsed. And then I was resussitated twice. I actually died twice.”
”So then I spent an intense week in the hospital having two operations just to get me back to normal. What happened was that my liver had basically ruptured and I’d hemeoraged inside and that was it. If I hadn’t gone back to the second doctor that would have been it. I’d be in a different world now. I’d have been singing with a lot of the other stars that went up to Heaven and are playing outdoor concerts. Let’s hope when I get there that John Lennon’s got his own free band that I can join.”
So how are you now, today? ”Well, it’s been about a year now and I had scans two weeks ago and it’s all clear.”
And you’ve now got 'Your Love' on the new ‘Stripped ‘80s Hits’ CD. When was it recorded? ”Aparently, yes,” he laughs. ”Well, I haven’t seen it yet. It was an acoustic re-record and as far as I remember it was within the last two or three years. In-between the touring invariably people would ask us to do an acoustic version. There’s about four or five acoustic versions of ‘Your Love’ and I’m pretty sure that that one was done in the last three years or so.”
Finally, what was it like being the hottest musical property at that time with that song? ”I’ve just gone all cold when you said that,” he laughs. ”It was breathtakingly fantastic. We just toured and toured and toured and then came home … and then went straight back out on tour! It was the most gratifying achievement you could ever ask for. If you set out to become a successful pop / rock band then you’d achieved it. You were living the dream, basically,” he smiles, one last time.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
'80's Hits Stripped' CD Purchase Link